Sites of reactive oxygen species generation by mitochondria oxidizing different substrates

Redox Biol. 2013 May 23;1(1):304-12. doi: 10.1016/j.redox.2013.04.005. eCollection 2013.


Mitochondrial radical production is important in redox signaling, aging and disease, but the relative contributions of different production sites are poorly understood. We analyzed the rates of superoxide/H2O2 production from different defined sites in rat skeletal muscle mitochondria oxidizing a variety of conventional substrates in the absence of added inhibitors: succinate; glycerol 3-phosphate; palmitoylcarnitine plus carnitine; or glutamate plus malate. In all cases, the sum of the estimated rates accounted fully for the measured overall rates. There were two striking results. First, the overall rates differed by an order of magnitude between substrates. Second, the relative contribution of each site was very different with different substrates. During succinate oxidation, most of the superoxide production was from the site of quinone reduction in complex I (site IQ), with small contributions from the flavin site in complex I (site IF) and the quinol oxidation site in complex III (site IIIQo). However, with glutamate plus malate as substrate, site IQ made little or no contribution, and production was shared between site IF, site IIIQo and 2-oxoglutarate dehydrogenase. With palmitoylcarnitine as substrate, the flavin site in complex II (site IIF) was a major contributor (together with sites IF and IIIQo), and with glycerol 3-phosphate as substrate, five different sites all contributed, including glycerol 3-phosphate dehydrogenase. Thus, the relative and absolute contributions of specific sites to the production of reactive oxygen species in isolated mitochondria depend very strongly on the substrates being oxidized, and the same is likely true in cells and in vivo.

Keywords: CDNB, 1-chloro-2,4-dinitrobenzene; Cytochrome b; ETF, electron transferring flavoprotein; ETF:QOR, ETF:ubiquinone oxidoreductase; Eh, redox potential; Hydrogen peroxide; IF, flavin site of complex I; IIF, flavin site of complex II; IIIQo, quinol oxidation site of complex III; IQ, quinone-binding site of complex I; NADH; OGDH, 2-oxoglutarate dehydrogenase; PDH, pyruvate dehydrogenase; Q, ubiquinone; QH2, ubiquinol; ROS, reactive oxygen species; Respiratory complexes; Superoxide; Ubiquinone; mGPDH, mitochondrial glycerol 3-phosphate dehydrogenase.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electron Transport Complex I / chemistry
  • Electron Transport Complex I / metabolism
  • Electron Transport Complex III / chemistry
  • Electron Transport Complex III / metabolism
  • Female
  • Glycerophosphates / metabolism
  • Malates / metabolism
  • Mitochondria, Muscle / metabolism*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Palmitoylcarnitine / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Succinic Acid / metabolism
  • Superoxides / metabolism*


  • Glycerophosphates
  • Malates
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Superoxides
  • Palmitoylcarnitine
  • malic acid
  • alpha-glycerophosphoric acid
  • Succinic Acid
  • Electron Transport Complex I
  • Electron Transport Complex III