Eukaryotic cytochrome c oxidase (COX) is the terminal enzyme of the mitochondrial respiratory chain. COX is a multimeric enzyme formed by subunits of dual genetic origin which assembly is intricate and highly regulated. The COX catalytic core is formed by three mitochondrial DNA encoded subunits, Cox1, Cox2 and Cox3, conserved in the bacterial enzyme. Their biogenesis requires the action of messenger-specific and subunit-specific factors which facilitate the synthesis, membrane insertion, maturation or assembly of the core subunits. The study of yeast strains and human cell lines from patients carrying mutations in structural subunits and COX assembly factors has been invaluable to identify these ancillary factors. Here we review the current state of knowledge of the biogenesis and assembly of the eukaryotic COX catalytic core and discuss the degree of conservation of the players and mechanisms operating from yeast to human. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Biogenesis/Assembly of Respiratory Enzyme Complexes.
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