The mitochondrial respiratory chain, formed by five protein complexes, utilizes energy from catabolic processes to synthesize ATP. Complex I, the first and the largest protein complex of the chain, harvests electrons from NADH to reduce quinone, while pumping protons across the mitochondrial membrane. Detailed knowledge of the working principle of such coupled charge-transfer processes remains, however, fragmentary due to bottlenecks in understanding redox-driven conformational transitions and their interplay with the hydrated proton pathways. Complex I from Thermus thermophilus encases 16 subunits with nine iron-sulfur clusters, reduced by electrons from NADH. Here, employing the latest crystal structure of T. thermophilus complex I, we have used microsecond-scale molecular dynamics simulations to study the chemo-mechanical coupling between redox changes of the iron-sulfur clusters and conformational transitions across complex I. First, we identify the redox switches within complex I, which allosterically couple the dynamics of the quinone binding pocket to the site of NADH reduction. Second, our free-energy calculations reveal that the affinity of the quinone, specifically menaquinone, for the binding-site is higher than that of its reduced, menaquinol form - a design essential for menaquinol release. Remarkably, the barriers to diffusive menaquinone dynamics are lesser than that of the more ubiquitous ubiquinone, and the naphthoquinone headgroup of the former furnishes stronger binding interactions with the pocket, favoring menaquinone for charge transport in T. thermophilus. Our computations are consistent with experimentally validated mutations and hierarchize the key residues into three functional classes, identifying new mutation targets. Third, long-range hydrogen-bond networks connecting the quinone-binding site to the transmembrane subunits are found to be responsible for proton pumping. Put together, the simulations reveal the molecular design principles linking redox reactions to quinone turnover to proton translocation in complex I.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Colloid and Surface Chemistry