Mitochondrial generation of superoxide and hydrogen peroxide as the source of mitochondrial redox signaling

Free Radic Biol Med. 2016 Nov;100:14-31. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2016.04.001. Epub 2016 Apr 13.


This review examines the generation of reactive oxygen species by mammalian mitochondria, and the status of different sites of production in redox signaling and pathology. Eleven distinct mitochondrial sites associated with substrate oxidation and oxidative phosphorylation leak electrons to oxygen to produce superoxide or hydrogen peroxide: oxoacid dehydrogenase complexes that feed electrons to NAD+; respiratory complexes I and III, and dehydrogenases, including complex II, that use ubiquinone as acceptor. The topologies, capacities, and substrate dependences of each site have recently clarified. Complex III and mitochondrial glycerol 3-phosphate dehydrogenase generate superoxide to the external side of the mitochondrial inner membrane as well as the matrix, the other sites generate superoxide and/or hydrogen peroxide exclusively in the matrix. These different site-specific topologies are important for redox signaling. The net rate of superoxide or hydrogen peroxide generation depends on the substrates present and the antioxidant systems active in the matrix and cytosol. The rate at each site can now be measured in complex substrate mixtures. In skeletal muscle mitochondria in media mimicking muscle cytosol at rest, four sites dominate, two in complex I and one each in complexes II and III. Specific suppressors of two sites have been identified, the outer ubiquinone-binding site in complex III (site IIIQo) and the site in complex I active during reverse electron transport (site IQ). These suppressors prevent superoxide/hydrogen peroxide production from a specific site without affecting oxidative phosphorylation, making them excellent tools to investigate the status of the sites in redox signaling, and to suppress the sites to prevent pathologies. They allow the cellular roles of mitochondrial superoxide/hydrogen peroxide production to be investigated without catastrophic confounding bioenergetic effects. They show that sites IIIQo and IQ are active in cells and have important roles in redox signaling (e.g. hypoxic signaling and ER-stress) and in causing oxidative damage in a variety of biological contexts.

Keywords: Hydrogen peroxide; Mitochondria; Oxidative damage; Reactive oxygen species; Redox signaling; Superoxide.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Rats
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Superoxides / metabolism*


  • Superoxides
  • Hydrogen Peroxide