The cytochrome bc1 complex is the most widely occurring electron transfer complex capable of energy transduction. Cytochrome bc1 complexes are found in the plasma membranes of phylogenetically diverse photosynthetic and respiring bacteria, and in the inner mitochondrial membrane of all eucaryotic cells. In all of these species the bc1 complex transfers electrons from a low-potential quinol to a higher-potential c-type cytochrome and links this electron transfer to proton translocation. Most bacteria also possess alternative pathways of quinol oxidation capable of circumventing the bc1 complex, but these pathways generally lack the energy-transducing, protontranslocating activity of the bc1 complex. All cytochrome bc1 complexes contain three electron transfer proteins which contain four redox prosthetic groups. These are cytochrome b, which contains two b heme groups that differ in their optical and thermodynamic properties; cytochrome c1, which contains a covalently bound c-type heme; and a 2Fe-2S iron-sulfur protein. The mechanism which links proton translocation to electron transfer through these proteins is the proton motive Q cycle, and this mechanism appears to be universal to all bc1 complexes. Experimentation is currently focused on understanding selected structure-function relationships prerequisite for these redox proteins to participate in the Q-cycle mechanism. The cytochrome bc1 complexes of mitochondria differ from those of bacteria, in that the former contain six to eight supernumerary polypeptides, in addition to the three redox proteins common to bacteria and mitochondria. These extra polypeptides are encoded in the nucleus and do not contain redox prosthetic groups. The functions of the supernumerary polypeptides of the mitochondrial bc1 complexes are generally not known and are being actively explored by genetically manipulating these proteins in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
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