Susceptibility of mitochondrial electron-transport complexes to oxidative damage. Focus on cytochrome c oxidase

Free Radic Res. 2012 Nov;46(11):1313-26. doi: 10.3109/10715762.2012.717273. Epub 2012 Sep 5.


Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are associated with a number of mitochondrial disorders. These include: ischemia/reperfusion injury, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and other age-related degenerative changes. ROS can be generated at numerous sites within the cell, but the mitochondrial electron transport chain is recognized as the major source of intracellular ROS. Two mitochondrial electron-transfer complexes are major sources of ROS: complex I and complex III. Oxidative damage to either of these complexes, or to electron transport complexes that are in close proximity to these ROS sources, e.g., cytochrome c oxidase, would be expected to inhibit electron transport. Such inhibition would lead to increased electron leakage and more ROS production, much like the well-known effect of adding electron transport inhibitors. Recent studies reveal that ROS and lipid peroxidation products are effective inhibitors of the electron-transport complexes. In some cases, inactivation of enzymes correlates with chemical modification of only a small number of unusually reactive amino acids. In this article, we review current knowledge of ROS-induced alterations within three complexes: (1) complex IV; (2) complex III; and (3) complex I. Our goal is to identify "hot spots" within each complex that are easily chemically modified and could be responsible for ROS-induced inhibition of the individual complexes. Special attention has been placed on ROS-induced damage to cardiolipin that is tightly bound to each of the inner membrane protein complexes. Peroxidation of the bound cardiolipin is thought to be particularly important since its close proximity and long residence time on the protein make it an especially effective reagent for subsequent ROS-induced damage to these proteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cardiolipins / metabolism
  • Electron Transport
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*


  • Cardiolipins
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Electron Transport Complex IV