* To whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received November 20, 2014
Mitochondria of all so far studied organisms, with the exception of Archaea, mammals, some yeasts, and protists, contain, along with the classical phosphorylating cytochrome pathway, a so-called cyanide-insensitive alternative oxidase (AOX) localized on the matrix side of the mitochondrial inner membrane, and electron transport through which is not coupled with ATP synthesis and energy accumulation. Mechanisms underlying plentiful functions of AOX in organisms at various levels of organization ranging from yeasts to plants are considered. First and foremost, AOX provides a chance of cell survival after inhibiting the terminal components of the main respiratory chain or losing the ability to synthesize these components. The vitally important role of AOX is obvious in thermogenesis of thermogenic plant organs where it becomes the only terminal oxidase with a very high activity, and the energy of substrate oxidation by this respiratory pathway is converted into heat, thus promoting evaporation of volatile substances attracting pollinating insects. AOX plays a fundamentally significant role in alleviating or preventing oxidative stress, thus ensuring the defense against a wide range of stresses and adverse environmental conditions, such as changes in temperature and light intensities, osmotic stress, drought, and attack by incompatible strains of bacterial pathogens, phytopathogens, or their elicitors. Participation of AOX in pathogen survival during its existence inside the host, in antivirus defense, as well as in metabolic rearrangements in plants during embryogenesis and cell differentiation is described. Examples are given to demonstrate that AOX might be an important tool to overcome the adverse aftereffects of restricted activity of the main respiratory chain in cells and whole animals.
KEY WORDS: alternative oxidase, reactive oxygen species, pathogen attack, fungi, yeasts, protists, plants, oxidative stress