Mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase is a member of a diverse superfamily of haem–copper oxidases. Its mechanism of oxygen reduction is reviewed in terms of the cycle of catalytic intermediates and their likely chemical structures. This reaction cycle is coupled to the translocation of protons across the inner mitochondrial membrane in which it is located. The likely mechanism by which this occurs, derived in significant part from studies of bacterial homologues, is presented. These mechanisms of catalysis and coupling, together with current alternative proposals of underlying mechanisms, are critically reviewed.

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