Keilin's classic paper of 1925 [Keilin (1925) Proc. R. Soc. London Ser. B 100, 129–151], achieved with simple, but elegant, techniques, describes the cytochrome components of the respiratory chain and their roles in intracellular respiration and oxygen consumption. Since that time, a tremendous amount of work has clarified the intricate details of the prosthetic groups, cofactors and proteins that comprise the respiratory chain and associated machinery for ATP synthesis. The work has culminated in advanced crystallographic and spectroscopic methods that provide structural and mechanistic details of this mitochondrial molecular machinery, in many instances to atomic level. I review here the current state of understanding of the mitochondrial respiratory chain in terms of structures and dynamics of the component proteins and their roles in the biological electron and proton transfer processes that result in ATP synthesis. These advances, together with emerging evidence of further diverse roles of mitochondria in health and disease, have prompted a new era of interest in mitochondrial function.

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