Bovine mitochondrial NADH-ubiquinone reductase (complex I), the first enzyme in the electron-transport chain, is a membrane-bound assembly of more than 30 different proteins, and the flavoprotein (FP) fraction, a water-soluble assembly of the 51-, 24-, and 10-kDa subunits, retains some of the catalytic properties of the enzyme. The 51-kDa subunit binds the substrate NAD(H) and probably contains both the cofactor, FMN, and also a tetranuclear iron-sulfur center, while a binuclear iron-sulfur center is located in the 24- or 10-kDa proteins. The 75-kDa subunit is the largest of the six proteins in the iron-sulfur protein (IP) fraction, and its sequence indicates that it too contains iron-sulfur clusters. Partial protein sequences have been determined at the N-terminus and at internal sites in the 51-kDa subunit, and the corresponding cDNA encoding a precursor of the protein has been isolated by using a novel strategy based on the polymerase chain reaction. The mature protein is 444 amino acids long. Its sequence, and those of the 24- and 75-kDa subunits, shows that mitochondrial complex I is related to a soluble NAD-reducing hydrogenase from the facultative chemolithotroph Alcaligenes eutrophus H16. This enzyme has four subunits, α, β, γ, and δ, and the αγ dimer is an NADH oxidoreductase that contains FMN. The γ-subunit is related to residues 1–240 of the 75-kDa subunit of complex I, and the α-subunit sequence is a fusion of homologues of the 24- and 51-kDa subunits, in the order N- to C-terminal. The most highly conserved regions are in the 51-kDa subunit and probably form parts of nucleotide binding sites for NAD(H) and FMN. Another conserved region surrounds the sequence motif CysXXCysXXCys, which is likely to provide three of the four ligands of a 4Fe–4S center, possibly that known as N-3. Characteristic ligands for a second 4Fe–4S center are conserved in the 75-kDa and γ-subunits. This relationship with the bacterial enzyme implies that the 24- and 51-kDa subunits, together with part of the 75-kDa subunit, constitute a structural unit in mitochondrial complex I that is concerned with the first steps of electron transport.
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