Cytochrome c Oxidase: Chemistry of a Molecular Machine Chapter uri icon


  • The plethora of proposed chemical models attempting to explain the proton pumping reactions catalyzed by the CcO complex, especially the number of recent models, makes it clear that the problem is far from solved. Although we have not discussed all of the models proposed to date, we have described some of the more detailed models in order to illustrate the theoretical concepts introduced at the beginning of this section on proton pumping as well as to illustrate the rich possibilities available for effecting proton pumping. It is clear that proton pumping is effected by conformational changes induced by oxidation/reduction of the various redox centers in the CcO complex. It is for this reason that the CcO complex is called a redox-linked proton pump. The conformational changes of the proton pump cycle are usually envisioned to be some sort of ligand-exchange reaction arising from unstable geometries upon oxidation/reduction of the various redox centers. However, simple geometrical rearrangements, as in the Babcock and Mitchell models are also possible. In any model, however, hydrogen bonds must be broken and reformed due to conformational changes that result from oxidation/reduction of the linkage site during enzyme turnover. Perhaps the most important point emphasized in this discussion, however, is the fact that proton pumping is a directed process and it is electron and proton gating mechanisms that drive the proton pump cycle in the forward direction. Since many of the models discussed above lack effective electron and/or proton gating, it is clear that the major difficulty in developing a viable chemical model is not formulating a cyclic set of protein conformational changes effecting proton pumping (redox linkage) but rather constructing the model with a set of physical constraints so that the proposed cycle proceeds efficiently as postulated. In our discussion of these models, we have not been too concerned about which electron of the catalytic cycle was entering the site of linkage, but merely whether an ET to the binuclear center played a role. However, redox linkage only occurs if ET to the activated binuclear center is coupled to the proton pump. Since all of the models of proton pumping presented here, with the exception of the Rousseau expanded model and the Wikström model, have a maximum stoichiometry of 1 H+/e-, they inadequately explain the 2 H+/e- ratio for the third and fourth electrons of the dioxygen reduction cycle (see Section V.B). One way of interpreting this shortfall of protons is that the remaining protons are pumped by an as yet undefined indirectly coupled mechanism. In this scenario, the site of linkage could be coupled to the pumping of one proton in a direct fashion and one proton in an indirect fashion for a given electron. For a long time, it was assumed that at least some elements of such an indirect mechanism reside in subunit III. While recent evidence argues against the involvement of subunit III in the proton pump, subunit III may still participate in a regulatory and/or structural capacity (Section II.E). Attention has now focused on subunits I and II in the search for residues intimately involved in the proton pump mechanism and/or as part of a proton channel. In particular, the role of some of the highly conserved residues of helix VIII of subunit I are currently being studied by site directed mutagenesis. In our opinion, any model that invokes heme alpha 3 or CuB as the site of linkage must propose a very effective means by which the presumedly fast uncoupling ET to the dioxygen intermediates is prevented. It is difficult to imagine that ET over the short distance from heme alpha 3 or CuB to the dioxygen intermediate requires more than 1 ns. In addition, we expect the conformational changes of the proton pump to require much more than 1 ns (see Section V.B).

author list (cited authors)

  • Musser, S. M., Stowell, M., & Chan, S. I.

citation count

  • 15

Book Title

  • Advances in Enzymology and Related Areas of Molecular Biology

publication date

  • January 1995