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2.4.7 - Alternative electron transport pathways

Plant mitochondria have a respiratory chain which is more complicated than that of animals and contains alternative NADH dehydrogenases, alternative oxidases which catalyse cyanide-insensitive O2 consumption and uncoupling proteins that acts to dissipate the ΔµH+. The alternative NADH dehydrogenases and alternative oxidase do not translocate protons and therefore are not linked to ATP synthesis; they are often referred to as the non-phosphorylating bypasses of the plant respiratory chain. These pathways were initially identified in plant mitochondria as they are able to continue to respire in the presence of the CIV inhibitor, cyanide and the CI inhibitor, rotenone and by their ability to exhibit natively uncoupled respiration in the absence of an ADP source.

(a) Alternative oxidase

Cyanide-insensitive respiration is catalysed by the alternative oxidase (AOX). This alternative terminal oxidase is a diiron quinol oxidase that branches from the classical respiratory chain at UQ and reduces oxygen to water without an associated proton translocation. The oxidase exists in mitochondria as a dimer which can be inactivated by covalent linkage via disulphide bonds. The reduced enzyme is stimulated allosterically by pyruvate and some other 2-oxo acids (such as glyoxylate), which interact directly with the oxidase. The exact role of AOX continues to be debated but it appears to play an antioxidant role in plant mitochondria. Research has shown it is actively induced by oxidative stress and the different genes for the oxidase have been shown to be both development- and tissue-specific. Knockout of AOX leads to reactive oxygen species and anthocyanin accumulation in the leaves exposed to a combination of high light and drought stress. AOX can be inhibited by hydroxamic acids such as n-propylgallate (nPG) and salicyl hydroxamic acid (SHAM).

(b) Alternative NAD(P)H dehydrogenases

Alternative NAD(P)H dehydrogenases have been shown to be present on both sides of the inner mitochondrial membrane. These type II NAD(P)H dehydrogenases oxidise external or cytosolic and matrix NADH and NADPH and are insensitive to the classical CI inhibitor rotenone. As with AOX, these enzymes do not translocate protons and therefore are not linked to ATP synthesis. The Arabidopsis genome contains seven genes encoding NAD(P)H dehydrogenases, although it appears that some of these isoforms are present in multiple subcellular compartments in addition to mitochondria.

(c) Uncoupling proteins

Uncoupling proteins (UCPs) are members of the mitochondrial carrier family of proteins. They act to dissipate the ΔµH+ built up the ETC by transporting H+ back across the inner membrane uncoupling proton and electron transport. The reactive oxygen species superoxide activates UCPs and this suggests a possible mechanism for the engagement of this enzyme in vivo. Analysis of knockouts of UCP (AtUCP1) showed that its absence led to localized oxidative stress but did not impair the ability of the plant to withstand a wide range of abiotic stresses. However, knockout of UCP1 did limit the photorespiration rate of plants and led to a reduction in photosynthetic carbon assimilation. This suggests that the main role of UCP1 in leaves is to maintain the redox poise of the mitochondrial ETC to facilitate photosynthesis.