An electron transport chain (ETC) is a series of protein complexes and other molecules that transfer electrons from electron donors to electron acceptors via redox reactions (both reduction and oxidation occurring simultaneously) and couples this electron transfer with the transfer of protons (H+ ions) across a membrane. The electrons that transferred from NADH and FADH2 to the ETC involves 4 multi-subunit large enzymes complexes and 2 mobile electron carriers. Many of the enzymes in the electron transport chain are membrane-bound.
The flow of electrons through the electron transport chain is an exergonic process. The energy from the redox reactions creates an electrochemical proton gradient that drives the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). In aerobic respiration, the flow of electrons terminates with molecular oxygen as the final electron acceptor. In anaerobic respiration, other electron acceptors are used, such as sulfate.
In an electron transport chain, the redox reactions are driven by the difference in the Gibbs free energy of reactants and products. The free energy released when a higher-energy electron donor and acceptor convert to lower-energy products, while electrons are transferred from a lower to a higher redox potential, is used by the complexes in the electron transport chain to create an electrochemical gradient of ions. It is this electrochemical gradient that drives the synthesis of ATP via coupling with oxidative phosphorylation with ATP synthase.
In eukaryotic organisms the electron transport chain, and site of oxidative phosphorylation, is found on the inner mitochondrial membrane. The energy released by reactions of oxygen and reduced compounds such as cytochrome c and (indirectly) NADH and FADH2 is used by the electron transport chain to pump protons into the intermembrane space, generating the electrochemical gradient over the inner mitochondrial membrane. In photosynthetic eukaryotes, the electron transport chain is found on the thylakoid membrane. Here, light energy drives electron transport through a proton pump and the resulting proton gradient causes subsequent synthesis of ATP. In bacteria, the electron transport chain can vary between species but it always constitutes a set of redox reactions that are coupled to the synthesis of ATP through the generation of an electrochemical gradient and oxidative phosphorylation through ATP synthase.
Most eukaryotic cells have mitochondria, which produce ATP from reactions of oxygen with products of the citric acid cycle, fatty acid metabolism, and amino acid metabolism. At the inner mitochondrial membrane, electrons from NADH and FADH2 pass through the electron transport chain to oxygen, which provides the energy driving the process as it is reduced to water. The electron transport chain comprises an enzymatic series of electron donors and acceptors. Each electron donor will pass electrons to an acceptor of higher redox potential, which in turn donates these electrons to another acceptor, a process that continues down the series until electrons are passed to oxygen, the terminal electron acceptor in the chain. Each reaction releases energy because a higher-energy donor and acceptor convert to lower-energy products. Via the transferred electrons, this energy is used to generate a proton gradient across the mitochondrial membrane by "pumping" protons into the intermembrane space, producing a state of higher free energy that has the potential to do work. This entire process is called oxidative phosphorylation since ADP is phosphorylated to ATP by using the electrochemical gradient that the redox reactions of the electron transport chain have established driven by energy-releasing reactions of oxygen.
Energy associated with the transfer of electrons down the electron transport chain is used to pump protons from the mitochondrial matrix into the intermembrane space, creating an electrochemical proton gradient (ΔpH) across the inner mitochondrial membrane. This proton gradient is largely but not exclusively responsible for the mitochondrial membrane potential (ΔΨM). It allows ATP synthase to use the flow of H+ through the enzyme back into the matrix to generate ATP from adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and inorganic phosphate. Complex I (NADH coenzyme Q reductase; labeled I) accepts electrons from the Krebs cycle electron carrier nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH), and passes them to coenzyme Q (ubiquinone; labeled Q), which also receives electrons from Complex II (succinate dehydrogenase; labeled II). Q passes electrons to Complex III (cytochrome bc1 complex; labeled III), which passes them to cytochrome c (cyt c). Cyt c passes electrons to Complex IV (cytochrome c oxidase; labeled IV).
Four membrane-bound complexes have been identified in mitochondria. Each is an extremely complex transmembrane structure that is embedded in the inner membrane. Three of them are proton pumps. The structures are electrically connected by lipid-soluble electron carriers and water-soluble electron carriers. The overall electron transport chain can be summarized as follows:
In Complex I (NADH ubiquinone oxidoreductase, Type I NADH dehydrogenase, or mitochondrial complex I; EC 126.96.36.199), two electrons are removed from NADH and transferred to a lipid-soluble carrier, ubiquinone (Q). The reduced product, ubiquinol (QH2), freely diffuses within the membrane, and Complex I translocates four protons (H+) across the membrane, thus producing a proton gradient. Complex I is one of the main sites at which premature electron leakage to oxygen occurs, thus being one of the main sites of production of superoxide.
Reverse electron flow is the transfer of electrons through the electron transport chain through the reverse redox reactions. Usually requiring a significant amount of energy to be used, this can reduce the oxidized forms of electron donors. For example, NAD+ can be reduced to NADH by Complex I. There are several factors that have been shown to induce reverse electron flow. However, more work needs to be done to confirm this. One example is blockage of ATP synthase, resulting in a build-up of protons and therefore a higher proton-motive force, inducing reverse electron flow.
In prokaryotes (bacteria and archaea) the situation is more complicated, because there are several different electron donors and several different electron acceptors. The generalized electron transport chain in bacteria is:
Electrons can enter the chain at three levels: at the level of a dehydrogenase, at the level of the quinone pool, or at the level of a mobile cytochrome electron carrier. These levels correspond to successively more positive redox potentials, or to successively decreased potential differences relative to the terminal electron acceptor. In other words, they correspond to successively smaller Gibbs free energy changes for the overall redox reaction.
Individual bacteria use multiple electron transport chains, often simultaneously. Bacteria can use a number of different electron donors, a number of different dehydrogenases, a number of different oxidases and reductases, and a number of different electron acceptors. For example, E. coli (when growing aerobically using glucose and oxygen as an energy source) uses two different NADH dehydrogenases and two different quinol oxidases, for a total of four different electron transport chains operating simultaneously.
A common feature of all electron transport chains is the presence of a proton pump to create an electrochemical gradient over a membrane. Bacterial electron transport chains may contain as many as three proton pumps, like mitochondria, or they may contain two or at least one.
Bacteria can use several different electron donors. When organic matter is the electron source, the donor may be NADH or succinate, in which case electrons enter the electron transport chain via NADH dehydrogenase (similar to Complex I in mitochondria) or succinate dehydrogenase (similar to Complex II). Other dehydrogenases may be used to process different energy sources: formate dehydrogenase, lactate dehydrogenase, glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase, H2 dehydrogenase (hydrogenase), electron transport chain. Some dehydrogenases are also proton pumps, while others funnel electrons into the quinone pool. Most dehydrogenases show induced expression in the bacterial cell in response to metabolic needs triggered by the environment in which the cells grow. In the case of lactate dehydrogenase in E. coli, the enzyme is used aerobically and in combination with other dehydrogenases. It is inducible and is expressed when the concentration of DL-lactate in the cell is high.
Electrons may enter an electron transport chain at the level of a mobile cytochrome or quinone carrier. For example, electrons from inorganic electron donors (nitrite, ferrous iron, electron transport chain) enter the electron transport chain at the cytochrome level. When electrons enter at a redox level greater than NADH, the electron transport chain must operate in reverse to produce this necessary, higher-energy molecule.
In oxidative phosphorylation, electrons are transferred from an electron donor such as NADH to an acceptor such as O2 through an electron transport chain, releasing energy. In photophosphorylation, the energy of sunlight is used to create a high-energy electron donor which can subsequently reduce oxidized components and couple to ATP synthesis via proton translocation by the electron transport chain.
Photosynthetic electron transport chains, like the mitochondrial chain, can be considered as a special case of the bacterial systems. They use mobile, lipid-soluble quinone carriers (phylloquinone and plastoquinone) and mobile, water-soluble carriers (cytochromes). They also contain a proton pump. The proton pump in all photosynthetic chains resembles mitochondrial Complex III. The commonly-held theory of symbiogenesis proposes that both organelles descended from bacteria. 2b1af7f3a8