Biochemistry textbook presentations of bioenergetics and mitochondrial function normally focus on the chemiosmotic theory with introduction of the tricarboxylic acid cycle and the electron transport chain, the proton and electrical gradients and subsequent oxidative phosphorylation and ATP-production by ATP synthase. The compound glutathione (GSH) is often mentioned in relation to mitochondrial function, primarily for a role as redox scavenger. Here we argue that its role as redox pair with oxidised glutathione (GSSG) is pivotal with regard to controlling the electrical or redox gradient across the mitochondrial inner-membrane. The very high concentration of taurine in oxidative tissue has recently led to discussions on the role of taurine in the mitochondria, e.g. with taurine acting as a pH buffer in the mitochondrial matrix. A very important consequence of the slightly alkaline pH is the fact that the NADH/NAD(+) redox pair can be brought in redox equilibrium with the GSH redox pair GSH/GSSG.An additional consequence of having GSH as redox buffer is the fact that from the pH dependence of its redox potential, it becomes possible to explain that the mitochondrial membrane potential has been observed to be independent of the matrix pH. Finally a simplified model for mitochondrial oxidation is presented with introduction of GSH as redox buffer to stabilise the electrical gradient, and taurine as pH buffer stabilising the pH gradient, but simultaneously establishing the equilibrium between the NADH/NAD(+) redox pair and the redox buffer pair GSH/GSSG.
Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 2013, Vol 776, p. 3-12