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Q and complex ii

Complex II directly receives FADH 2 , which does not pass through complex I. The compound connecting the first and second complexes to the third is ubiquinone    (Q). The Q molecule is lipid soluble and freely moves through the hydrophobic core of the membrane. Once it is reduced, (QH 2 ), ubiquinone delivers its electrons to the next complex in the electron transport chain. Q receives the electrons derived from NADH from complex I and the electrons derived from FADH 2 from complex II, including succinate dehydrogenase. This enzyme and FADH 2 form a small complex that delivers electrons directly to the electron transport chain, bypassing the first complex. Since these electrons bypass and thus do not energize the proton pump in the first complex, fewer ATP molecules are made from the FADH 2 electrons. The number of ATP molecules ultimately obtained is directly proportional to the number of protons pumped across the inner mitochondrial membrane.

Complex iii

The third complex is composed of cytochrome b, another Fe-S protein, Rieske center (2Fe-2S center), and cytochrome c proteins; this complex is also called cytochrome oxidoreductase. Cytochrome proteins have a prosthetic group of heme. The heme molecule is similar to the heme in hemoglobin, but it carries electrons, not oxygen. As a result, the iron ion at its core is reduced and oxidized as it passes the electrons, fluctuating between different oxidation states: Fe ++ (reduced) and Fe +++ (oxidized). The heme molecules in the cytochromes have slightly different characteristics due to the effects of the different proteins binding them, giving slightly different characteristics to each complex. Complex III pumps protons through the membrane and passes its electrons to cytochrome c for transport to the fourth complex of proteins and enzymes (cytochrome c is the acceptor of electrons from Q; however, whereas Q carries pairs of electrons, cytochrome c can accept only one at a time).

Complex iv

The fourth complex is composed of cytochrome proteins c, a, and a 3 . This complex contains two heme groups (one in each of the two cytochromes, a, and a 3 ) and three copper ions (a pair of Cu A and one Cu B in cytochrome a 3 ). The cytochromes hold an oxygen molecule very tightly between the iron and copper ions until the oxygen is completely reduced. The reduced oxygen then picks up two hydrogen ions from the surrounding medium to make water (H 2 O). The removal of the hydrogen ions from the system contributes to the ion gradient used in the process of chemiosmosis.


In chemiosmosis, the free energy from the series of redox reactions just described is used to pump hydrogen ions (protons) across the membrane. The uneven distribution of H + ions across the membrane establishes both concentration and electrical gradients (thus, an electrochemical gradient), owing to the hydrogen ions’ positive charge and their aggregation on one side of the membrane.

If the membrane were open to diffusion by the hydrogen ions, the ions would tend to diffuse back across into the matrix, driven by their electrochemical gradient. Recall that many ions cannot diffuse through the nonpolar regions of phospholipid membranes without the aid of ion channels. Similarly, hydrogen ions in the matrix space can only pass through the inner mitochondrial membrane through an integral membrane protein called ATP synthase ( [link] ). This complex protein acts as a tiny generator, turned by the force of the hydrogen ions diffusing through it, down their electrochemical gradient. The turning of parts of this molecular machine facilitates the addition of a phosphate to ADP, forming ATP, using the potential energy of the hydrogen ion gradient.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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