NYMC Faculty Publications

Synthetic and Natural Polyanions Induce Cytochrome C Release from Mitochondria in Vitro and in Situ

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Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


A synthetic polyanion composed of styrene, maleic anhydride, and methacrylic acid (molar ratio 56:37:7) significantly inhibited the respiration of isolated rat liver mitochondria in a time-dependent fashion that correlated with 1) collapse of the mitochondrial membrane potential and 2) high amplitude mitochondrial swelling. The process is apparently Ca(2+) dependent. Since it is blocked by cyclosporin A, the process is ascribed to induction of the mitochondrial permeability transition. In mitoplasts, i.e., mitochondria lacking their outer membranes, the polyanion rapidly blocked respiration. After incubation of rat liver mitochondria with the polyanion, cytochrome c was released into the incubation medium. In solution, the polyanion modified by conjugation with fluorescein formed a complex with cytochrome c. Addition of the polyanion to cytochrome c-loaded phosphatidylcholine/cardiolipin liposomes induced the release of the protein from liposomal membrane evidently due to coordinated interplay of Coulomb and hydrophobic interactions of the polymer with cytochrome c. We conclude that binding of the polyanion to cytochrome c renders it inactive in the respiratory chain due to exclusion from its native binding sites. Apparently, the polyanion interacts with cytochrome c in mitochondria and releases it to the medium through breakage of the outer membrane as a result of severe swelling. Similar properties were demonstrated for the natural polyanion, tobacco mosaic virus RNA. An electron microscopy study confirmed that both polyanions caused mitochondrial swelling. Exposure of cerebellar astroglial cells in culture to the synthetic polyanion resulted in cell death, which was associated with nuclear fragmentation.

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Originally published in American Journal of Physiology.Cell Physiology. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpcell.00519.2009