Mechanisms of cytochrome c release from mitochondria
In healthy cells, cytochrome c (Cyt c) is located in the mitochondrial intermembrane/intercristae spaces, where it functions as an electron shuttle in the respiratory chain and interacts with cardiolipin (CL). Several proapoptotic stimuli induce the permeabilization of the outer membrane, facilitate the communication between intermembrane and intercristae spaces and promote the mobilization of Cyt c from CL, allowing for Cyt c release. In the cytosol, Cyt c mediates the allosteric activation of apoptosis-protease activating factor 1, which is required for the proteolytic maturation of caspase-9 and caspase-3. Activated caspases ultimately lead to apoptotic cell dismantling. Nevertheless, cytosolic Cyt c has been associated also to vital cell functions (i.e. differentiation), suggesting that its release not always occurs in an all-or-nothing fashion and that mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization may not invariably lead to cell death. This review deals with the events involved in Cyt c release from mitochondria, with special attention to its regulation and final consequences.