The notion of a mobile pool of coenzyme Q (CoQ) in the lipid bilayer has changed with the discovery of respiratory supramolecular units, in particular the supercomplex comprising complexes I and III; in this model, the electron transfer is thought to be mediated by tunneling or microdiffusion, with a clear kinetic advantage on the transfer based on random collisions. The CoQ pool, however, has a fundamental function in establishing a dissociation equilibrium with bound quinone, besides being required for electron transfer from other dehydrogenases to complex III. The mechanism of CoQ reduction by complex I is analyzed regarding recent developments on the crystallographic structure of the enzyme, also in relation to the capacity of complex I to generate superoxide. Although the mechanism of the Q-cycle is well established for complex III, involvement of CoQ in proton translocation by complex I is still debated. Some additional roles of CoQ are also examined, such as the antioxidant effect of its reduced form and the capacity to bind the permeability transition pore and the mitochondrial uncoupling proteins. Finally, a working hypothesis is advanced on the establishment of a vicious circle of oxidative stress and supercomplex disorganization in pathological states, as in neurodegeneration and cancer.
Copyright © 2011 International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.