Biochemistry, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version



Biochim Biophys Acta. 2012 September ; 1823(9): 1604–1616.


© 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


The sequential flow of electrons in the respiratory chain, from a low reduction potential substrate to O2, is mediated by protein-bound redox cofactors. In mitochondria, hemes—together with flavin, iron–sulfur, and copper cofactors—mediate this multi-electron transfer. Hemes, in three different forms, are used as a protein-bound prosthetic group in succinate dehydrogenase (complex II), in bc1 complex (complex III) and in cytochrome c oxidase (complex IV). The exact function of heme b in complex II is still unclear, and lags behind in operational detail that is available for the hemes of complex III and IV. The two b hemes of complex III participate in the unique bifurcation of electron flow from the oxidation of ubiquinol, while heme c of the cytochrome c subunit, Cyt1, transfers these electrons to the peripheral cytochrome c. The unique heme a3, with CuB, form a catalytic site in complex IV that binds and reduces molecular oxygen. In addition to providing catalytic and electron transfer operations, hemes also serve a critical role in the assembly of these respiratory complexes, which is just beginning to be understood. In the absence of heme, the assembly of complex II is impaired, especially in mammalian cells. In complex III, a covalent attachment of the heme to apo-Cyt1 is a prerequisite for the complete assembly of bc1, whereas in complex IV, heme a is required for the proper folding of the Cox 1 subunit and subsequent assembly. In this review, we provide further details of the aforementioned processes with respect to the hemes of the mitochondrial respiratory complexes.