Generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) is increasingly recognized as an important cellular process involved in numerous physiological and pathophysiological processes. Complex I ( NADH: ubiquinone oxidoreductase) is considered as one of the major sources of ROS within mitochondria. Yet, the exact site and mechanism of superoxide production by this large membrane-bound multiprotein complex has remained controversial. Here we show that isolated complex 1 from Yarrowia lipolytica forms superoxide at a rate of 0.15% of the rate measured for catalytic turnover. Superoxide production is not inhibited by ubiquinone analogous inhibitors. Because mutant complex I lacking a detectable iron-sulfur cluster N2 exhibited the same rate of ROS production, this terminal redox center could be excluded as a source of electrons. From the effect of different ubiquinone derivatives and pH on this side reaction of complex I we concluded that oxygen accepts electrons from FMNH2 or FMN semiquinone either directly or via more hydrophilic ubiquinone derivatives.
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