Generation of Δψ (membrane potential) by cytochrome oxidase proteoliposomes oxidizing superoxide-reduced cytochrome c has been demonstrated. XO+HX (xanthine oxidase and hypoxanthine) were used to produce superoxide. It was found that the generation of Δψ is completely abolished by cyanide (an uncoupler) or by superoxide dismutase, and is enhanced by nigericin. Addition of ascorbate after XO+HX causes a further increase in Δψ. On the other hand, XO+HX added after ascorbate do not affect Δψ, indicating that superoxide does not have measurable protonophorous activity. The half-maximal cytochrome c concentration for Δψ generation supported by XO+HX was found to be approx. 1 μM. These data and the results of some other researchers can be rationalized as follows: (1) O2 accepts an electron to form superoxide; (2) cytochrome c oxidizes superoxide back to O2; (3) an electron removed from the reduced cytochrome c is transferred to O2 by cytochrome oxidase in a manner that generates ΔμH+ (transmembrane difference in electrochemical H+ potential). Thus cytochrome c mediates a process of superoxide removal, resulting in regeneration of O2 and utilization of the electron involved previously in the O2 reduction. It is important that cytochrome c is not damaged during the antioxidant reaction, in contrast with many other antioxidants.

Abbreviations used: ΔμH+, transmembrane difference in electrochemical H+ potential; Δψ, membrane potential; FCCP, p-trifluoromethyl carbonyl cyanide phenylhydrazone; HX, hypoxanthine; ROS, reactive oxygen species; SOD, superoxide dismutase; XO, xanthine oxidase.

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Author notes

679th Meeting of the Biochemical Society held at the University of Essex, Colchester, 2–4 July 2003