Palmitate rapidly and reversibly inhibits the uncoupled NADH oxidase activity catalysed by activated complex I in inside-out bovine heart submitochondrial particles (IC50 extrapolated to zero enzyme concentration is equal to 9 μM at 25 °C, pH 8.0). The NADH:hexa-ammineruthenium reductase activity of complex I is insensitive to palmitate. Partial (∼50%) inhibition of the NADH:external quinone reductase activity is seen at saturating palmitate concentration and the residual activity is fully sensitive to piericidin. The uncoupled succinate oxidase activity is considerably less sensitive to palmitate. Only a slight stimulation of tightly coupled respiration with NADH as the substrate is seen at optimal palmitate concentrations, whereas complete relief of the respiratory control is observed with succinate as the substrate. Palmitate prevents the turnover-induced activation of the de-activated complex I (IC50 extrapolated to zero enzyme concentration is equal to 3 μM at 25 °C, pH 8.0). The mode of action of palmitate on the NADH oxidase is qualitatively temperature-dependent. Rapid and reversible inhibition of the complex I catalytic activity and its de-active to active state transition are seen at 25 °C, whereas the time-dependent irreversible inactivation of the NADH oxidase proceeds at 37 °C. Palmitate drastically increases the rate of spontaneous de-activation of complex I in the absence of NADH. Taken together, these results suggest that free fatty acids act as specific complex I-directed inhibitors; at a physiologically relevant temperature (37 °C), their inhibitory effects on mitochondrial NADH oxidation is due to perturbation of the pseudo-reversible active–de-active complex I transition.

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