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Milestone In Mitochondrial Structure Revealed

BERKELEY, Calif. --In the short-term, the announcement is of consequence only to those cell biologists whose focus is on "mitochondria," the subcellular structures which generate energy for living cells. In the long-term, however, the announcement may be recorded as a milestone on the road to discovering a way to slow down the aging process, or a means of treating Alzheimer's disease or any of a number of other potentially devastating degenerative disorders.

An international team of researchers which includes scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has determined the complete crystal structure of one of the four protein complexes in the mitochondrial respiratory chain. Called cytochrome bc1 or complex III, this enzyme plays a critical role in the relay of electrons for producing energy that sustains the health of tissues, organs, and the body as a whole.

Bing Jap, a biophysicist with Berkeley Lab's Life Sciences Division, led the effort which took approximately eight years. Using x-ray crystallography, Jap and his colleagues have produced structural images of the entire 11 subunits of cytochrome bc1 at a resolution of approximately 3 angstroms. Images of the cytochrome bc1 complexes, which came from cow heart cells, provide the most detailed and complete pictures of the complex ever reported.

Every cell in the body contains hundreds of mitochondria which, together, provide about 90-percent of the energy that a cell needs to carry out its life processes. This energy is produced by the transfer of electrons from molecules of food through the respiratory chain and into the production of ATP, the molecules that served as traveling battery packs, delivering energy throughout the cell.

Numerous studies of the mitochondria have shown that anything that impedes the flow of electrons through the respiratory chain causes a decline in energy production. If uncorrected, this energy drop-off eventually begins to d
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Contact: Lynn Yarris
lcyarris@lbl.gov
(510) 486-5375
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
18-Aug-1998


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