It has been generally accepted that superoxide anion generated by the mitochondrial respiratory transport chain are vectorially released into the mitochondrial matrix, where they are converted to hydrogen peroxide through the catalytic action of Mn-superoxide dismutase. Release of superoxide anion into the intermembrane space is a controversial topic, partly unresolved by the reaction of superoxide anion with cytochrome c, which faces the intermembrane space and is present in this compartment at a high concentration. This study was aimed at assessing the topological site(s) of release of superoxide anion during respiratory chain activity. To address this issue, mitoplasts were prepared from isolated mitochondria by digitonin treatment to remove portions of the outer membrane along with portions of cytochrome c. EPR analysis in conjunction with spin traps of antimycin-supplemented mitoplasts revealed the formation of a spin adduct of superoxide anion. The EPR signal was (i) abrogated by superoxide dismutase, (ii) decreased competitively by exogenous ferricytochrome c and (iii) broadened by the membrane-impermeable spin-broadening agent chromium trioxalate. These results confirm the production and release of superoxide anion towards the cytosolic side of the inner mitochondrial membrane. In addition, co-treatment of mitoplasts with myxothiazol and antimycin A, resulting in an inhibition of the oxidation of ubiquinol to ubisemiquinone, abolished the EPR signal, thus suggesting that ubisemiquinone autoxidation at the outer site of the complex-III ubiquinone pool is a pathway for superoxide anion formation and subsequent release into the intermembrane space. The generation of superoxide anion towards the intermembrane space requires consideration of the mitochondrial steady-state values for superoxide anion and hydrogen peroxide, the decay pathways of these oxidants in this compartment and the implications of these processes for cytosolic events.

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