Cytochrome c Oxidase dysfunction in cancer : Exploring the molecular mechanisms

Abstract: Mutations in genes encoding the mitochondrial enzyme Cytochrome c Oxidase (CytcO) have lately been found in connection to various types of cancer. Some mutations result in substitutions of highly conserved amino-acid residues. As CytcO is an essential enzyme in oxidative phosphorylation, the substitutions are likely to have deleterious effects on the cellular energy metabolism. There is, however, a lack of data on the functional consequences of the pathogenic substitutions. In the publications on which this thesis is based, we investigated the effects of the substitutions on a molecular level. This was done using the validated bacterial model organism Rhodobacter sphaeroides which has a CytcO that is both structurally and functionally similar to the mammalian CytcO. For the functional studies, we used spectroscopic techniques to investigate the overall activity of the enzyme as well as the proton-pumping efficiency and the internal proton and electron transfers. We found that most of the CytcO substitutions observed in connection to cancer, resulted in a decreased catalytic activity. The impaired activity was due to defects in specific electron- or proton-transfer processes. Moreover, in several cases the substitutions resulted in an impaired proton-pumping activity. This thesis deals with the relevance of using R. sphaeroides CytcO as a model system for investigating human disease, as well as the possible links between the defective enzyme and the development of cancer.