Rats fed a vitamin E-depleted diet for 48 weeks had undetectable levels of vitamin E in the gastrocnemius muscle and liver, leading to elevated malondialdehyde levels in both tissues and an elevated GSH level in muscle. Skeletal-muscle mitochondria showed decreased mitochondrial respiratory chain (MRC) activities, whereas liver MRC activities were increased. Exposure of normal rat liver submitochondrial particles (SMPs) to an in vitro NADPH-dependent lipid peroxidation system resulted in a dose-dependent increase in lipid peroxidation and inhibition of complex I and complex IV activities. Complex I exhibited greater sensitivity to lipid peroxidation than complex IV. At low and high NADPH concentrations, the rate of lipid peroxidation and the level of enzyme inhibition were essentially the same in liver SMPs from both vitamin E-deficient and control rats, suggesting that under these conditions, the loss of vitamin E did not exacerbate the effects of either lipid peroxidation or enzyme inhibition. These results indicate that normal vitamin E levels in liver mitochondria are not required for protection against lipid peroxidation and are consistent with the normal liver mitochondrial function in vitamin E-deficient animals. This suggests other antioxidants, such as ubiquinol and GSH, may be more important in protecting liver mitochondria and MRC from lipid peroxidation.

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