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Cytochrome c oxidase

The enzyme cytochrome c oxidase or Complex IV, is a large transmembrane protein complex found in bacteria and the mitochondrion of eukaryotes. It is the last enzyme in the respiratory electron transport chain of mitochondria (or bacteria) located in the mitochondrial (or bacterial) membrane. It receives an electron from each of four cytochrome c molecules, and transfers them to one oxygen molecule, converting molecular oxygen to two molecules of water. In the process, it binds four protons from the inner aqueous phase to make water and in addition translocates four protons across the membrane, in the process, helping to establish a transmembrane difference of proton electrochemical potential that the ATP synthase then uses to synthesize ATP.


The complex is a large integral membrane protein composed of several metal prosthetic sites and 14 protein subunits in mammals. In mammals, eleven subunits are nuclear in origin, and three are synthesized in the mitochondria. The complex contains two hemes, a cytochrome a and cytochrome a3, and two copper centers, the CuA and CuB centers. In fact, the cytochrome a3 and CuB form a binuclear center that is the site of oxygen reduction. Cytochrome c, which is reduced by the preceding component of the respiratory chain (cytochrome bc1 complex, complex III), docks near the CuA binuclear center and passes an electron to it, being oxidized back to cytochrome c containing Fe3+. The reduced CuA binuclear center now passes an electron on to cytochrome a, which in turn passes an electron on to the cytochrome a3-CuB binuclear center. The two metal ions in this binuclear center are 4.5 Å apart and coordinate a hydroxide ion in the fully oxidized state. Crystallographic studies of cytochrome c oxidase show an unusual post-translational modification, linking C6 of Tyr(244) and the ε-N of His(240) (bovine enzyme numbering). It plays a vital role in enabling the cytochrome a3- CuB binuclear center to accept four electrons in reducing molecular oxygen to water. The mechanism of reduction was formerly thought to involve a peroxide intermediate, which was believed to lead to superoxide production. However, the currently accepted mechanism involves a rapid four-electron reduction involving immediate oxygen-oxygen bond cleavage, avoiding any intermediate likely to form superoxide.


COX assembly in yeast is a complex process that is not entirely understood due to the rapid and irreversible aggregation of hydrophobic subunits that form the holoenzyme complex, as well as aggregation of mutant subunits with exposed hydrophobic patches. COX subunits are encoded in both the nuclear and mitochondrial genomes. The three subunits that form the COX catalytic core are encoded in the mitochondrial genome. Hemes and cofactors are inserted into subunits I & II. Subunits I and IV initiate assembly. Different subunits may associate to form sub-complex intermediates that later bind to other subunits to form the COX complex. In post-assembly modifications, COX will form a homodimer. This is required for activity. Both dimers are connected by a cardiolipin molecule, which has been found to play a key role in stabilization of the holoenzyme complex. The dissociation of subunits VIIa and III in conjunction with the removal of cardiolipin results in total loss of enzyme activity. Subunits encoded in the nuclear genome are known to play a role in enzyme dimerization and stability. Mutations to these subunits eliminate COX function. Assembly is known to occur in at least three distinct rate-determining steps. The products of these steps have been found, though specific subunit compositions have not been determined. Synthesis and assembly of COX subunits I, II, and III are facilitated by translational activators, which interact with the 5’ untranslated regions of mitochondrial mRNA transcripts. Translational activators are encoded in the nucleus. They can operate through either direct or indirect interaction with other components of translation machinery, but exact molecular mechanisms are unclear due to difficulties associated with synthesizing translation machinery in-vitro. Though the interactions between subunits I, II, and III encoded within the mitochondrial genome make a lesser contribution to enzyme stability than interactions between bigenomic subunits, these subunits are more conserved, indicating potential unexplored roles for enzyme activity.

Table of conserved subunits of cytochrome c oxidase complex


Summary reaction: 4 Fe2+-cytochrome c + 8 H+in + O2 → 4 Fe3+-cytochrome c + 2 H2O + 4 H+out Two electrons are passed from two cytochrome c's, through the CuA and cytochrome a sites to the cytochrome a3- CuB binuclear center, reducing the metals to the Fe2+ form and Cu+. The hydroxide ligand is protonated and lost as water, creating a void between the metals that is filled by O2. The oxygen is rapidly reduced, with two electrons coming from the Fe2+cytochrome a3, which is converted to the ferryl oxo form (Fe4+=O). The oxygen atom close to CuB picks up one electron from Cu+, and a second electron and a proton from the hydroxyl of Tyr(244), which becomes a tyrosyl radical: The second oxygen is converted to a hydroxide ion by picking up two electrons and a proton. A third electron arising from another cytochrome c is passed through the first two electron carriers to the cytochrome a3- CuB binuclear center, and this electron and two protons convert the tyrosyl radical back to Tyr, and the hydroxide bound to CuB2+ to a water molecule. The fourth electron from another cytochrome c flows through CuA and cytochrome a to the cytochrome a3- CuB binuclear center, reducing the Fe4+=O to Fe3+, with the oxygen atom picking up a proton simultaneously, regenerating this oxygen as a hydroxide ion coordinated in the middle of the cytochrome a3- CuB center as it was at the start of this cycle. The net process is that four reduced cytochrome c's are used, along with 4 protons, to reduce O2 to two water molecules.Voet and Voet, Biochemistry (2011) pp.841–45


COX exists in three conformational states: fully oxidized (pulsed), partially reduced, and fully reduced. Each inhibitor has a high affinity to a different state. In the pulsed state, both the heme a3 and the CuB nuclear centers are oxidized; this is the conformation of the enzyme that has the highest activity. A two-electron reduction initiates a conformational change that allows oxygen to bind at the active site to the partially-reduced enzyme. Four electrons bind to COX to fully reduce the enzyme. Its fully reduced state, which consists of a reduced Fe2+ at the cytochrome a3 heme group and a reduced CuB+ binuclear center, is considered the inactive or resting state of the enzyme. Cyanide, azide, and carbon monoxide all bind to cytochrome c oxidase, thus competitively inhibiting the protein from functioning by preventing the binding of oxygen at the active site, which results in the chemical asphyxiation of cells. Higher concentrations of molecular oxygen are needed to compensate for increasing inhibitor concentrations, leading to an overall reduction in metabolic activity in the cell in the presence of an inhibitor. Other ligands, such as nitric oxide and hydrogen sulfide, can also inhibit COX by binding to regulatory sites on the enzyme, reducing the rate of cellular respiration. Cyanide is a competitive inhibitor for COX, binding with high affinity to the partially-reduced state of the enzyme and hindering further reduction of the enzyme. In the pulsed state, cyanide binds slowly, but with high affinity. The ligand is posited to electrostatically stabilize both metals at once by positioning itself between them. A high nitric oxide concentration, such as one added exogenously to the enzyme, reverses cyanide inhibition of COX. Nitric oxide can reversibly bind to either metal ion in the binuclear center to be oxidized to nitrite. NO and CN will compete with oxygen to bind at the site, reducing the rate of cellular respiration. Endogenous NO, however, which is produced at lower levels, augments CN inhibition. Higher levels of NO, which correlate with the existence of more enzyme in the reduced state, lead to a greater inhibition of cyanide. At these basal concentrations, NO inhibition of Complex IV is known to have beneficial effects, such as increasing oxygen levels in blood vessel tissues. The inability of the enzyme to reduce oxygen to water results in a buildup of oxygen, which can diffuse deeper into surrounding tissues. NO inhibition of Complex IV has a larger effect at lower oxygen concentrations, increasing its utility as a vasodilator in tissues of need. Hydrogen sulfide will bind COX in a noncompetitive fashion at a regulatory site on the enzyme, similar to carbon monoxide. Sulfide has the highest affinity to either the pulsed or partially reduced states of the enzyme, and is capable of partially reducing the enzyme at the heme a3 center. It is unclear whether endogenous H2S levels are sufficient to inhibit the enzyme. There is no interaction between hydrogen sulfide and the fully reduced conformation of COX. Methanol in methylated spirits is converted into formic acid, which also inhibits the same oxidase system. High levels of ATP can allosterically inhibit cytochrome c oxidase, binding from within the mitochondrial matrix.

Subcellular localization and presence at extramitochondrial sites

Cytochrome c oxidase has 3 subunits which are encoded by mitochondrial DNA. Of these 3 subunits encoded by mitochondrial DNA, two have been identified in extramitochondrial locations. In pancreatic acinar tissue, these subunits were found in zymogen granules. Additionally, in the anterior pituitary, relatively high amounts of these subunits were found in growth hormone secretory granules. The extramitochondrial function of these cytochrome c oxidase subunits has not yet been characterized. Besides cytochrome c oxidase subunits, extramitochondrial localization has also been observed for large numbers of other mitochondrial proteins.Gupta, R. S., Ramachandra, N. B., Bowes, T. and Singh, B. (2008) Unusual cellular disposition of the mitochondrial molecular chaperones Hsp60, Hsp70 and Hsp10. Novartis Found Symp. 291: 59-68. This raises the possibility about existence of yet unidentified specific mechanisms for protein translocation from mitochondria to other cellular destinations.

Genetic defects and disorders

Defects involving genetic mutations altering cytochrome c oxidase (COX) functionality or structure can result in severe, often fatal metabolic disorders. Such disorders usually manifest in early childhood and affect predominantly tissues with high energy demands (brain, heart, muscle). Among the many classified mitochondrial diseases, those involving dysfunctional COX assembly are thought to be the most severe. The vast majority of COX disorders are linked to mutations in nuclear-encoded proteins referred to as assembly factors, or assembly proteins. These assembly factors contribute to COX structure and functionality, and are involved in several essential processes, including transcription and translation of mitochondrion-encoded subunits, processing of preproteins and membrane insertion, and cofactor biosynthesis and incorporation. Currently, mutations have been identified in seven COX assembly factors: SURF1, SCO1, SCO2, COX10, COX15, COX20, COA5 and LRPPRC. Mutations in these proteins can result in altered functionality of sub-complex assembly, copper transport, or translational regulation. Each gene mutation is associated with the etiology of a specific disease, with some having implications in multiple disorders. Disorders involving dysfunctional COX assembly via gene mutations include Leigh syndrome, cardiomyopathy, leukodystrophy, anemia, and sensorineural deafness.


The increased reliance of neurons on oxidative phosphorylation for energy. facilitates the use of COX histochemistry in mapping regional brain metabolism in animals, since it establishes a direct and positive correlation between enzyme activity and neuronal activity. This can be seen in the correlation between COX enzyme amount and activity, which indicates the regulation of COX at the level of gene expression. COX distribution is inconsistent across different regions of the animal brain, but its pattern of its distribution is consistent across animals. This pattern has been observed in the monkey, mouse, and calf brain. One isozyme of COX has been consistently detected in histochemical analysis of the brain. Such brain mapping has been accomplished in spontaneous mutant mice with cerebellar disease such as reeler and a transgenic model of Alzheimer's disease. This technique has also been used to map learning activity in animal brain.

Additional images

Image:Mitochondrial electron transport chain (annotated diagram).svg|ETC Image:Komplex IV.png|Complex IV

See also


External links

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This article based upon the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cytochrome_c_oxidase, the free encyclopaedia Wikipedia and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
Further informations available on the list of authors and history: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cytochrome_c_oxidase&action=history
presented by: Ingo Malchow, Mirower Bogen 22, 17235 Neustrelitz, Germany