Mitochondrial function: Mitochondrial electron transport complexes and reactive oxygen species

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Reactive Oxygen Species, Redox Imbalance and Oxidative Stress

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Mitochondrial ROS - Wikipedia

Apoptosis on the other hand as its definition kind of implies here, it's a programmed type of cell death. Has usually some big purpose and often can confer some advantage to the organism. And one example of this is actually an embryological development, and specifically the development of our fingers and our toes. Let's take for example the development of our hands. Early on in our development when we're still a fetus, our hand looks something like a paw.

And through apoptosis, the tissue between our digits eventually dies off and that purposeful controlled death of this tissue ultimately allows us to produce a hand with five separated digits that we call fingers. And with that in mind, we can actually brainstorm some other advantageous reasons that a cell might want to undergo cell death. So here I've kind of drawn a cell and because I mentioned earlier, the mitochondria plays a big role in apoptosis. I'm gonna go ahead and draw kind of a massive mitochondria in here, remember that the mitochondria has two membranes. I've drawn the outer membrane and here I'm drawing the in foldings or the crysti of the inner mitochondrial membrane.

Now we just talked about one type of signal that induced a cell to undergo apoptosis, and that was a signal that was given during our embryological development. But there are also other things that can induce our cell to undergo apoptosis as well and I want to touch on several of these factors right now. First off, turns out that DNA damage can induce cell death and I should mention that our cells have repair mechanisms in place that can deal with DNA damage but in some cases, the DNA damage might be quite intensive or our repair mechanisms are simply not equipped to repair DNA damage from some reason or another, and so, the kind of last fail safe mechanism to deal with this is to induce programmed cell death.

And of course, this is advantageous for our organism because we wouldn't want a cell with a damaged DNA to pass that damaged DNA down to its offspring cells. So this is a way that we can essentially get rid of those damaged cells. In addition, infection especially by viruses because viruses like to hang out inside of our cells can also induce programmed cell death. And in this case, oftentimes it's immune cells that remember are kind of our army against infection that see that there are specific proteins on cells that have been infected by viruses, and our immune cells can recognize these proteins and send signals from the immune cell to our infected cell to tell our cell to undergo a cell death.

Additionally, environmental stress can also induce apoptosis or programmed cell death. This is anything from the deprivation of oxygen or nutrients to even a deprivation of the cell's connection to other cells. It turns out that in order to continue surviving, the cell needs to get a signal that it's attached or in close proximity to other cells around it.


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And so if these cell to cell connections are somehow disrupted, it could signal the cell to undergo apoptosis. I'll also mention that many cells are constantly receiving signals from growth factors which are specific molecules oftentimes hormones that are sending signals to these cells to proliferate and divide.

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Mitochondria, apoptosis, and oxidative stress

And so if those are somehow taken away for some reason or another, then cells might see that as a sign to undergo cell death as well. Of course, the big theme here is that cells have a way to undergo some type of controlled programmed cell death if their environment isn't very hospitable. And finally I want to mention that reactive oxygen species which are often referred to as ROS can also induce cell death. Now these reactive oxygen species are exactly what they sound like. They are oxygen species that have acquired oftentimes an unstable number of electrons and that makes them very reactive.

And some examples of these include the superoxide anion which is an oxygen molecule that has essentially acquired an extra electron here making it negatively charged. In addition we have a neutrally charged hydroxide molecule which is usually called a hydroxide radical because it only has one electron.

And also hydrogen peroxide is an additional reactive oxygen species that can be formed inside of our cells. Now recall that oxygen is important because it's the final electron acceptor in the electron transfer chain of the mitochondria which is important for producing all of that ATP for our cells. Now in order to prevent unwanted reactions between these highly reactive species and important things in our cells like lipid membranes and DNA and proteins, our cells have come up with some enzymes to try and convert these to less reactive species as well as some antioxidant molecules that try and trap these reactive oxygen species.

But of course, if the extent of this oxidative damage is too high and our repair mechanisms can't work, our cells will undergo programmed cell death. Now even if the pathways by which these diverse signals communicate to the cell that it needs to undergo apoptosis may be slightly different from one another, one common endpoint is that they all have an effect upon the mitochondria which plays a large role in initiating apoptosis. In fact, one of the early findings in apoptosis is that this outer mitochondrial membrane here becomes more permeable than it was before.


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  • And notably, the proteins that regulate the permeability of this outer mitochondrial membrane are part of a family of proteins called the BCL2 family of proteins. And this name comes from where these proteins were first discovered which was in a B-cell lymphoma which is a type of cancer of B-cells which are immune cells in your body. But the important thing to take away here is that there are two types of proteins in this BCL2 family. There are proteins that are pro-apoptotic which means they want to push the cell towards apoptosis, or they're anti-apoptotic.