Supercomplex Assembly Determines Electron Flux in the Mitochondrial Electron Transport Chain

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Science  28 Jun 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6140, pp. 1567-1570
DOI: 10.1126/science.1230381

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Respiration Refined

Cells derive energy from redox reactions mediated by mitochondrial enzymes that form the electron transport chain. The enzymes can form large complexes, known as supercomplexes, whose function has been controversial. Lapuente-Brun et al. (p. 1567) discovered that a mouse protein, supercomplex assembly factor I (SCAFI), specifically modulates assembly of respiratory complexes into supercomplexes. Formation of the supercomplexes appears to cause electrons to be processed differently, depending on the substrate from which they are derived.


The textbook description of mitochondrial respiratory complexes (RCs) views them as free-moving entities linked by the mobile carriers coenzyme Q (CoQ) and cytochrome c (cyt c). This model (known as the fluid model) is challenged by the proposal that all RCs except complex II can associate in supercomplexes (SCs). The proposed SCs are the respirasome (complexes I, III, and IV), complexes I and III, and complexes III and IV. The role of SCs is unclear, and their existence is debated. By genetic modulation of interactions between complexes I and III and III and IV, we show that these associations define dedicated CoQ and cyt c pools and that SC assembly is dynamic and organizes electron flux to optimize the use of available substrates.

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