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Ferroptosis is a type of iron-dependent, non-apoptotic cell death, which is typically induced by cysteine starvation or by the inhibition of glutathione peroxidase 4 (GPX4) activity with the accompanying elevation in lipid peroxidation product levels. Despite the central role of mitochondria in oxidative metabolism and hence, as main sources of superoxide, the issue of whether mitochondrial superoxide participates in the execution of ferroptosis remains unclear. To gain additional insights into this issue, we employed suppressors of the site IQ electron leak (S1QEL) and suppressors of the site IIIQo electron leak (S3QEL), small molecules that suppress mitochondrial superoxide production from complex I and III, respectively. The findings indicate that S3QEL, but not S1QEL, significantly protected mouse hepatoma Hepa 1-6 cells from lipid peroxidation and the subsequent ferroptosis induced by cysteine (Cys) starvation (cystine deprivation from culture media or xCT inhibition by erastin). The intracellular levels of Cys and GSH remained low irrespective of life or death. Moreover, S3QEL also suppressed ferroptosis in xCT-knockout mouse-derived embryonic fibroblasts, which usually die under conventional cultivating conditions due to the absence of intracellular Cys and GSH. Although it has been reported that erastin induces the hyperpolarization of the mitochondrial membrane potential, no correlation was observed between hyperpolarization and cell death in xCT-knockout cells. Collectively, these results indicate that superoxide production from complex III plays a pivotal role in the ferroptosis that is induced by Cys starvation, suggesting that protecting mitochondria is a promising therapeutic strategy for the treatment of multiple diseases featuring ferroptosis. Copyright © 2021 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Takujiro Homma, Sho Kobayashi, Hideyo Sato, Junichi Fujii. Superoxide produced by mitochondrial complex III plays a pivotal role in the execution of ferroptosis induced by cysteine starvation. Archives of biochemistry and biophysics. 2021 Mar 30;700:108775

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PMID: 33493440

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