Bacterial nitrous oxide respiration: electron transport chains and copper transfer reactions

Adv Microb Physiol. 2019;75:137-175. doi: 10.1016/bs.ampbs.2019.07.001. Epub 2019 Oct 10.


Biologically catalyzed nitrous oxide (N2O, laughing gas) reduction to dinitrogen gas (N2) is a desirable process in the light of ever-increasing atmospheric concentrations of this important greenhouse gas and ozone depleting substance. A diverse range of bacterial species produce the copper cluster-containing enzyme N2O reductase (NosZ), which is the only known enzyme that converts N2O to N2. Based on phylogenetic analyses, NosZ enzymes have been classified into clade I or clade II and it has turned out that this differentiation is also applicable to nos gene clusters (NGCs) and some physiological traits of the corresponding microbial cells. The NosZ enzyme is the terminal reductase of anaerobic N2O respiration, in which electrons derived from a donor substrate are transferred to NosZ by means of an electron transport chain (ETC) that conserves energy through proton motive force generation. This chapter presents models of the ETCs involved in clade I and clade II N2O respiration as well as of the respective NosZ maturation and maintenance processes. Despite differences in NGCs and growth yields of N2O-respiring microorganisms, the deduced bioenergetic framework in clade I and clade II N2O respiration is assumed to be equivalent. In both cases proton motive quinol oxidation by N2O is thought to be catalyzed by the Q cycle mechanism of a membrane-bound Rieske/cytochrome bc complex. However, clade I and clade II organisms are expected to differ significantly in terms of auxiliary electron transport processes as well as NosZ active site maintenance and repair.

Keywords: Anaerobic respiration; Clade I and clade II nitrous oxide reductase; Climate change; Greenhouse gas; Nitrous oxide (N(2)O, laughing gas) respiration; NosZ; Quinone/quinol pool; Rieske/cytochrome bc complex; Wolinella succinogenes; nos gene cluster.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / enzymology
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Copper / metabolism*
  • Electron Transport
  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Oxidoreductases / genetics
  • Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Phylogeny


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Copper
  • Oxidoreductases
  • nitrous oxide reductase
  • Nitrous Oxide