Brain-Specific Serine-47 Modification of Cytochrome c Regulates Cytochrome c Oxidase Activity Attenuating ROS Production and Cell Death: Implications for Ischemia/Reperfusion Injury and Akt Signaling

Cells. 2020 Aug 6;9(8):1843. doi: 10.3390/cells9081843.


We previously reported that serine-47 (S47) phosphorylation of cytochrome c (Cytc) in the brain results in lower cytochrome c oxidase (COX) activity and caspase-3 activity in vitro. We here analyze the effect of S47 modification in fibroblast cell lines stably expressing S47E phosphomimetic Cytc, unphosphorylated WT, or S47A Cytc. Our results show that S47E Cytc results in partial inhibition of mitochondrial respiration corresponding with lower mitochondrial membrane potentials (ΔΨm) and reduced reactive oxygen species (ROS) production. When exposed to an oxygen-glucose deprivation/reoxygenation (OGD/R) model simulating ischemia/reperfusion injury, the Cytc S47E phosphomimetic cell line showed minimal ROS generation compared to the unphosphorylated WT Cytc cell line that generated high levels of ROS upon reoxygenation. Consequently, the S47E Cytc cell line also resulted in significantly lower cell death upon exposure to OGD/R, confirming the cytoprotective role of S47 phosphorylation of Cytc. S47E Cytc also resulted in lower cell death upon H2O2 treatment. Finally, we propose that pro-survival kinase Akt (protein kinase B) is a likely mediator of the S47 phosphorylation of Cytc in the brain. Akt inhibitor wortmannin abolished S47 phosphorylation of Cytc, while the Akt activator SC79 maintained S47 phosphorylation of Cytc. Overall, our results suggest that loss of S47 phosphorylation of Cytc during brain ischemia drives reperfusion injury through maximal electron transport chain flux, ΔΨm hyperpolarization, and ROS-triggered cell death.

Keywords: apoptosis; brain; cell signaling; cytochrome c; electron transport chain; ischemia/reperfusion injury; mitochondrial membrane potential; phosphorylation; reactive oxygen species.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cell Death* / drug effects
  • Cell Line
  • Cytochromes c / genetics
  • Cytochromes c / metabolism*
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / genetics
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / metabolism*
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / pharmacology
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial
  • Mice
  • Phosphorylation
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Reperfusion Injury / metabolism
  • Reperfusion Injury / pathology*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Cytochromes c
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Electron Transport Complex IV
  • Akt1 protein, mouse
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt