, Volume 85, Issue 1, pp 133-143

Structure of the cytochrome b 6 f complex: new prosthetic groups, Q-space, and the ‘hors d’oeuvres hypothesis’ for assembly of the complex

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3-Å crystal structures of the cytochrome b 6 f complex have provided a structural framework for the photosynthetic electron transport chain. The structures of the 220,000 molecular weight dimeric cytochrome b 6 f complex from the thermophilic cyanobacterium, Mastigocladis laminosus (Kurisu et al. 2003, Science 302: 1009–1014), and the green alga, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (Stroebel et al. 2003, Nature 426: 413–418), are very similar. The latter is the first structure of a integral membrane photosynthetic electron transport complex from a eukaryotic source. The M. laminosus and C. reinhardtii structures have provided structural information and experimental insights to the properties and functions of three native and novel prosthetic groups, a chlorophyll a, a β-carotene, and a unique heme x, one copy of which is found in each monomer of the cytochrome b 6 f complex, but not the cytochrome bc 1 complex from the mitochondrial respiratory chain of animals and yeast. Several functional insights have emerged from the structures including the function of the dimer; the properties of heme x; the function of the inter-monomer quinone-exchange cavity; a quinone diffusion pathway through relatively narrow crevices or portals; a modified reaction scheme for n-side quinone redox reactions; a necessarily novel mechanism for quenching of the bound chlorophyll triplet state; a possible role for the bound chlorophyll a in activation of the LHC kinase; and a structural and assembly role for the four small PetG, L, M, and N subunits. An ‘hors d’oeuvres hypothesis’ for assembly of the complex is proposed for the small ‘hydrophobic stick’ or ‘picket fence’ polypeptides at the periphery of the complex, based on the cis-positive orientation of the small hydrophobic subunits and the ‘toothpick’ binding mode of the β-carotene.