Labile Low-Molecular-Mass Metal Complexes in Mitochondria: Trials and Tribulations of a Burgeoning Field.
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Iron, copper, zinc, manganese, cobalt, and molybdenum play important roles in mitochondrial biochemistry, serving to help catalyze reactions in numerous metalloenzymes. These metals are also found in labile "pools" within mitochondria. Although the composition and cellular function of these pools are largely unknown, they are thought to be comprised of nonproteinaceous low-molecular-mass (LMM) metal complexes. Many problems must be solved before these pools can be fully defined, especially problems stemming from the lability of such complexes. This lability arises from inherently weak coordinate bonds between ligands and metals. This is an advantage for catalysis and trafficking, but it makes characterization difficult. The most popular strategy for investigating such pools is to detect them using chelator probes with fluorescent properties that change upon metal coordination. Characterization is limited because of the inevitable destruction of the complexes during their detection. Moreover, probes likely react with more than one type of metal complex, confusing analyses. An alternative approach is to use liquid chromatography (LC) coupled with inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). With help from a previous lab member, the authors recently developed an LC-ICP-MS approach to analyze LMM extracts from yeast and mammalian mitochondria. They detected several metal complexes, including Fe580, Fe1100, Fe1500, Cu5000, Zn1200, Zn1500, Mn1100, Mn2000, Co1200, Co1500, and Mo780 (numbers refer to approximate masses in daltons). Many of these may be used to metalate apo-metalloproteins as they fold inside the organelle. The LC-based approach also has challenges, e.g., in distinguishing artifactual metal complexes from endogenous ones, due to the fact that cells must be disrupted to form extracts before they are passed through chromatography columns prior to analysis. Ultimately, both approaches will be needed to characterize these intriguing complexes and to elucidate their roles in mitochondrial biochemistry.