Mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells, generating energy that supports life. A giant molecular proton pump, called complex I, is crucial: It sets in motion a chain of reactions, creating a proton gradient that powers the generation of ATP, the cell’s fuel. Despite complex I’s central role, the mechanism by which it transports protons across the membrane has so far been unknown. Now, Leonid Sazanov and his group at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) have solved the mystery of how complex I works: Conformational changes in the protein combined with electrostatic waves move protons into the mitochondrial matrix. This is the result of a study published today in Science.
Complex I is the first enzyme in the respiratory chain, a series