Research Article

Mechanistic insight from the crystal structure of mitochondrial complex I

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Science  02 Jan 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6217, pp. 44-49
DOI: 10.1126/science.1259859

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Energy conversion in complex 1

ATP, the energy source of the cell, is synthesized by a protein residing in the mitochondrial inner membrane. The synthesis is driven by a proton gradient generated by redox reactions that transfer electrons between a series of enzymes in the membrane. The largest complex in this electron transfer chain is the 1-MD complex 1. It couples electron transfer from NADH to ubiquinone to the translocation of four protons. Zickermann et al. report the crystal structure of a complex comprising the 14 central subunits and the largest accessory subunit of mitochondrial complex 1 from a yeast-genetic model at 3.6 Å resolution. The structure identifies four potential proton translocation pathways and gives insight into how energy from the redox reactions is transmitted to drive proton pumping.

Science, this issue p. 44


Proton-pumping complex I of the mitochondrial respiratory chain is among the largest and most complicated membrane protein complexes. The enzyme contributes substantially to oxidative energy conversion in eukaryotic cells. Its malfunctions are implicated in many hereditary and degenerative disorders. We report the x-ray structure of mitochondrial complex I at a resolution of 3.6 to 3.9 angstroms, describing in detail the central subunits that execute the bioenergetic function. A continuous axis of basic and acidic residues running centrally through the membrane arm connects the ubiquinone reduction site in the hydrophilic arm to four putative proton-pumping units. The binding position for a substrate analogous inhibitor and blockage of the predicted ubiquinone binding site provide a model for the “deactive” form of the enzyme. The proposed transition into the active form is based on a concerted structural rearrangement at the ubiquinone reduction site, providing support for a two-state stabilization-change mechanism of proton pumping.

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