Several reactions in biological systems contribute to maintain the steady-state concentrations of superoxide anion (O(2)*-) and hydrogen peroxide (H(2)O(2)). The electron transfer chain of mitochondria is a well documented source of H(2)O(2); however, the release of O(2)*- from mitochondria into cytosol has not been unequivocally established. This study was aimed at validating mitochondria as sources of cytosolic O(2)*-, elucidating the mechanisms underlying the release of O(2)*- from mitochondria into cytosol, and assessing the role of outer membrane voltage-dependent anion channels (VDACs) in this process. Isolated rat heart mitochondria supplemented with complex I or II substrates generate an EPR signal ascribed to O(2)*-. Inhibition of the signal in a concentration-dependent manner by both manganese-superoxide dismutase and cytochrome c proteins that cannot cross the mitochondrial membrane supports the extramitochondrial location of the spin adduct. Basal rates of O(2)*- release from mitochondria were estimated at approximately 0.04 nmol/min/mg protein, a value increased approximately 8-fold by the complex III inhibitor, antimycin A. These estimates, obtained by quantitative spin-trapping EPR, were confirmed by fluorescence techniques, mainly hydroethidine oxidation and horseradish peroxidase-based p-hydroxyphylacetate dimerization. Inhibitors of VDAC, 4'-diisothiocyano-2,2'-disulfonic acid stilbene (DIDS), and dextran sulfate (in a voltage-dependent manner) inhibited O(2)*- production from mitochondria by approximately 55%, thus suggesting that a large portion of O(2)*- exited mitochondria via these channels. These findings are discussed in terms of competitive decay pathways for O(2)*- in the intermembrane space and cytosol as well as the implications of these processes for modulating cell signaling pathways in these compartments.
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