Cytochrome c (Cytc) is a multifunctional protein, acting as an electron carrier in the electron transport chain (ETC), where it shuttles electrons from bc1 complex to cytochrome c oxidase (COX), and as a trigger of type II apoptosis when released from the mitochondria. We previously showed that Cytc is regulated in a highly tissue-specific manner: Cytc isolated from heart, liver, and kidney is phosphorylated on Y97, Y48, and T28, respectively. Here, we have analyzed the effect of a new Cytc phosphorylation site, threonine 58, which we mapped in rat kidney Cytc by mass spectrometry. We generated and overexpressed wild-type, phosphomimetic T58E, and two controls, T58A and T58I Cytc; the latter replacement is found in human and testis-specific Cytc. In vitro, COX activity, caspase-3 activity, and heme degradation in the presence of H2O2 were decreased with phosphomimetic Cytc compared to wild-type. Cytc-knockout cells expressing T58E or T58I Cytc showed a reduction in intact cell respiration, mitochondrial membrane potential (∆Ψm), ROS production, and apoptotic activity compared to wild-type. We propose that, under physiological conditions, Cytc is phosphorylated, which controls mitochondrial respiration and apoptosis. Under conditions of stress Cytc phosphorylations are lost leading to maximal respiration rates, ∆Ψm hyperpolarization, ROS production, and apoptosis.
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