Oxygen and proton pathways in cytochrome c oxidase

Ivo Hofacker, Klaus Schulten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cytochrome c oxidase is a redox-driven proton pump, which couples the reduction of oxygen to water to the translocation of protons across the membrane. The recently solved x-ray structures of cytochrome c oxidase permit molecular dynamics simulations of the underlying transport processes. To eventually establish the proton pump mechanism, we investigate the transport of the substrates, oxygen and protons, through the enzyme. Molecular dynamics simulations of oxygen diffusion through the protein reveal a well-defined pathway to the oxygen-binding site starting at a hydrophobic cavity near the membrane-exposed surface of subunit I, close to the interface to subunit III. A large number of water sites are predicted within the protein, which could play an essential role for the transfer of protons in cytochrome c oxidase. The water molecules form two channels along which protons can enter from the cytoplasmic (matrix) side of the protein and reach the binuclear center. A possible pumping mechanism is proposed that involves a shuttling motion of a glutamic acid side chain, which could then transfer a proton to a propionate group of heme α(s).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)100-107
Number of pages8
JournalProteins: Structure, Function and Genetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 1998


  • Cytochrome c oxidase
  • Oxygen diffusion
  • Proton pump

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry


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