Although several X-ray structures have been determined for the mitochondrial cytochrome (cyt) bc(1) complex, none yet shows the position of the substrate, ubiquinol, in the quinol oxidase (Q(o)) site. In this study, the interaction of molecular oxygen with the reactive intermediate Q(o) semiquinone is used to probe the Q(o) site. It has been known for some time that partial turnover of the cyt bc(1) complex in the presence of antimycin A, a Q(i) site inhibitor, results in accumulation of a semiquinone at the Q(o) site, which can reduce O(2) to superoxide (O(2)(*)(-)). It was more recently shown that myxothiazol, which binds close to the cyt b(L) heme in the proximal Q(o) niche, also induces O(2)(*)(-) production. In this work, it is shown that, in addition to myxothiazol, a number of other proximal Q(o) inhibitors [including (E)-beta-methoxyacrylate-stilbene, mucidin, and famoxadone] also induce O(2)(*)(-) production in the isolated yeast cyt bc(1) complex, at approximately 50% of the V(max) observed in the presence of antimycin A. It is proposed that proximal Q(o) site inhibitors induce O(2)(*)(-) production because they allow formation, but not oxidation, of the semiquinone at the distal niche of the Q(o) site pocket. The apparent K(m) for ubiquinol at the Q(o) site in the presence of proximal Q(o) site inhibitors suggests that the "distal niche" of the Q(o) pocket can act as a fully independent quinol binding and oxidation site. Together with the X-ray structures, these results suggest substrate ubiquinol binds in a fashion similar to that of stigmatellin with H-bonds between H161 of the Rieske iron-sulfur protein and E272 of the cyt b protein. When modeled in this way, mucidin and ubiquinol can bind simultaneously to the Q(o) site with virtually no steric hindrance, whereas progressively bulkier inhibitors exhibit increasing overlap. The fact that partial turnover of the Q(o) site is possible even with bound proximal Q(o) site inhibitors is consistent with the participation of two separate functional Q(o) binding niches, occupied simultaneously or sequentially.
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