Cytochrome c in the apoptotic and antioxidant cascades

FEBS Lett. 1998 Feb 27;423(3):275-80. doi: 10.1016/s0014-5793(98)00061-1.


Recent progress in studies on apoptosis has revealed that cytochrome c is a pro-apoptotic factor. It is released from its places on the outer surface of the inner mitochondrial membrane at early steps of apoptosis and, combining with some cytosolic proteins, activates conversion of the latent apoptosis-promoting protease pro-caspase-9 to its active form. Cytochrome c release can be initiated by the pro-apoptotic protein Bax. This process is blocked by the anti-apoptotic proteins Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL. The role of cytochrome c in apoptosis may be understood within the framework of the concept assuming that the evolutionary primary function of apoptosis was to purify tissues from ROS-overproducing cells. In this context, the pro-apoptosis activity of cytochrome c might represent one of the anti-oxidant functions inherent in this cytochrome. Among other cytochrome c-linked antioxidant mechanisms, the following systems can be indicated. (1) Cytochrome c released from the inner mitochondrial membrane to the intermembrane space can operate as an enzyme oxidizing O2.- back to O2. The reduced cytochrome c is oxidized by cytochrome oxidase (or in yeasts and bacteria, by cytochrome c peroxidase). (2) The intermembrane cytochrome c can activate the electron transport chain in the outer mitochondrial membrane. This bypasses the initial and middle parts of the main respiratory chain, which produce, as a rule, the major portion of ROS in the cell. (3) The main respiratory chain losing its cytochrome c is inhibited in such a fashion that antimycin-like agents fail to stimulate ROS production.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / metabolism*
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Apoptotic Protease-Activating Factor 1
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspase 9
  • Caspases*
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / metabolism
  • Cytochrome c Group / physiology*
  • Cytochromes b5 / metabolism
  • Electron Transport / physiology
  • Mitochondria / physiology
  • Protein Precursors / metabolism
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism
  • Superoxides / metabolism
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein


  • Antioxidants
  • Apoptotic Protease-Activating Factor 1
  • Cytochrome c Group
  • Protein Precursors
  • Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • Superoxides
  • Cytochromes b5
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspase 9
  • Caspases
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases