The road to the structure of the mitochondrial respiratory chain supercomplex

Caruana, Nikeisha ORCID: 0000-0002-0817-1686 and Stroud, David A ORCID: 0000-0002-2048-3383 (2020) The road to the structure of the mitochondrial respiratory chain supercomplex. Biochemical Society Transactions, 48 (2). pp. 621-629. ISSN 0300-5127


The four complexes of the mitochondrial respiratory chain are critical for ATP production in most eukaryotic cells. Structural characterisation of these complexes has been critical for understanding the mechanisms underpinning their function. The three proton-pumping complexes, Complexes I, III and IV associate to form stable supercomplexes or respirasomes, the most abundant form containing 80 subunits in mammals. Multiple functions have been proposed for the supercomplexes, including enhancing the diffusion of electron carriers, providing stability for the complexes and protection against reactive oxygen species. Although high-resolution structures for Complexes III and IV were determined by X-ray crystallography in the 1990s, the size of Complex I and the supercomplexes necessitated advances in sample preparation and the development of cryo-electron microscopy techniques. We now enjoy structures for these beautiful complexes isolated from multiple organisms and in multiple states and together they provide important insights into respiratory chain function and the role of the supercomplex. While we as non-structural biologists use these structures for interpreting our own functional data, we need to remind ourselves that they stand on the shoulders of a large body of previous structural studies, many of which are still appropriate for use in understanding our results. In this mini-review, we discuss the history of respiratory chain structural biology studies leading to the structures of the mammalian supercomplexes and beyond.

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Item type Article
DOI 10.1042/BST20190930
Official URL
Subjects Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 3205 Medical biochemistry and metabolomics
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Health and Sport
Keywords mitochondrial respiratory chain, complexes, super complex, respiratory chain structural biology
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