Structure–Function of the Cytochrome b6f Complex


  • This invited paper is part of the Symposium-in-Print: Photosynthesis.

*Corresponding author email: (W. A. Cramer)


The structure and function of the cytochrome b6f complex is considered in the context of recent crystal structures of the complex as an eight subunit, 220 kDa symmetric dimeric complex obtained from the thermophilic cyanobacterium, Mastigocladus laminosus, and the green alga, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. A major problem confronted in crystallization of the cyanobacterial complex, proteolysis of three of the subunits, is discussed along with initial efforts to identify the protease. The evolution of these cytochrome complexes is illustrated by conservation of the hydrophobic heme-binding transmembrane domain of the cyt b polypeptide between b6f and bc1 complexes, and the rubredoxin-like membrane proximal domain of the Rieske [2Fe-2S] protein. Pathways of coupled electron and proton transfer are discussed in the framework of a modified Q cycle, in which the heme cn, not found in the bc1 complex, but electronically tightly coupled to the heme bn of the b6f complex, is included. Crystal structures of the cyanobacterial complex with the quinone analogue inhibitors, NQNO or tridecyl-stigmatellin, show the latter to be ligands of heme cn, implicating heme cn as an n-side plastoquinone reductase. Existing questions include (a) the details of the shuttle of: (i) the [2Fe-2S] protein between the membrane-bound PQH2 electron/H+ donor and the cytochrome f acceptor to complete the p-side electron transfer circuit; (ii) PQ/PQH2 between n- and p-sides of the complex across the intermonomer quinone exchange cavity, through the narrow portal connecting the cavity with the p-side [2Fe-2S] niche; (b) the role of the n-side of the b6f complex and heme cn in regulation of the relative rates of noncyclic and cyclic electron transfer. The likely presence of cyclic electron transport in the b6f complex, and of heme cn in the firmicute bc complex suggests the concept that hemes bn-cn define a branch point in bc complexes that can support electron transport pathways that differ in detail from the Q cycle supported by the bc1 complex.