The Monoheme c Subunit of Respiratory Alternative Complex III Is Not Essential for Electron Transfer to Cytochrome aa3 in Flavobacterium johnsoniae

Katarzyna Lorencik, Robert Ekiert, Yongtao Zhu, Mark J. McBride, Robert B. Gennis, Marcin Sarewicz*, Artur Osyczka

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Bacterial alternative complex III (ACIII) catalyzes menaquinol (MKH2) oxidation, presumably fulfilling the role of cytochromes bc1/b6f in organisms that lack these enzymes. The molecular mechanism of ACIII is unknown and so far the complex has remained inaccessible for genetic modifications. The recently solved cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) structures of ACIII from Flavobacterium johnsoniae, Rhodothermus marinus, and Roseiflexus castenholzii revealed no structural similarity to cytochrome bc1/b6f and there were variations in the heme-containing subunits ActA and ActE. These data implicated intriguing alternative electron transfer paths connecting ACIII with its redox partner, and left the contributions of ActE and the terminal domain of ActA to the catalytic mechanism unclear. Here, we report genetic deletion and complementation of F. johnsoniae actA and actE and the functional implications of such modifications. Deletion of actA led to the loss of activity of cytochrome aa3 (a redox partner of ACIII in this bacterium), which confirmed that ACIII is the sole source of electrons for this complex. Deletion of actE did not impair the activity of cytochrome aa3, revealing that ActE is not required for electron transfer between ACIII and cytochrome aa3. Nevertheless, absence of ActE negatively impacted the cell growth rate, pointing toward another, yet unidentified, function of this subunit. Possible explanations for these observations, including a proposal of a split in electron paths at the ActA/ActE interface, are discussed. The described system for genetic manipulations in F. johnsoniae ACIII offers new tools for studying the molecular mechanism of operation of this enzyme. IMPORTANCE Energy conversion is a fundamental process of all organisms, realized by specialized protein complexes, one of which is alternative complex III (ACIII). ACIII is a functional analogue of well-known mitochondrial complex III, but operates according to a different, still unknown mechanism. To understand how ACIII interacts functionally with its protein partners, we developed a genetic system to mutate the Flavobacterium johnsoniae genes encoding ACIII subunits. Deletion and complementation of heme-containing subunits revealed that ACIII is the sole source of electrons for cytochrome aa3 and that one of the redox-active subunits (ActE) is dispensable for electron transfer between these complexes. This study sheds light on the operation of the supercomplex of ACIII and cytochrome aa3 and suggests a division in the electron path within ACIII. It also shows a way to manipulate protein expression levels for application in other members of the Bacteroidetes phylum.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalMicrobiology Spectrum
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Flavobacterium johnsoniae
  • alternative complex III
  • menaquinol
  • ompA promoter
  • oxygen consumption
  • quinone reductase


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