Mitochondriogenesis and apoptosis: possible cause of vitamin A-mediated adipose loss in WNIN/Ob-obese rats

Denne nevner at kronisk tilskudd av Vitamin A på 53mg/kg øker produksjon av mitokondrier og derigjennom bidrar til vektnedgang. Denne dosen blir 5300mg for en på 100kg. Studien nevner også at A vitamin aktiverer «uncouling protein» (UCP1) i mitokondriene som bidrar til termogenese (produksjon av varme i cellen). Det betyr at metabolismen øker men uten at man produserer mer frie radikaler.


Previously, we reported that vitamin A-enriched diet (129 mg/kg diet) intake reduces the adiposity development in obese rats of WNIN/Ob strain. Here, we hypothesize that dose lesser than 129 mg of vitamin A/kg diet would also be effective in ameliorating the development of obesity in these rats.


Five-month-old male lean and obese rats designated as A & B were divided into four subgroups (I, II, III and IV) consisting of 8 rats from each phenotype and received diets containing 2.6 mg (control group), 26 mg, 52 mg and 129 mg vitamin A/kg diet as retinyl palmitate for 20 weeks. Body composition and morphological analysis of brown adipose tissue (BAT) was analyzed. Expression of uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1), retinoic acid receptor α (RARα) and retinoid X receptor α (RXRα) in BAT and levels of Bcl2 and Bax in epididymal white adipose tissue (eWAT) were determined by immunoblotting.


Vitamin A supplementation to obese rats at doses of 52 and 129 mg/kg diet showed reduced body weight gain and adiposity compared to control diet-fed obese rats receiving 2.6 mg of vitamin A/kg diet. In BAT of obese rats, vitamin A supplementation at doses of 26 and 52 mg of vitamin A/kg diet resulted in increased UCP1 expression with concomitant decrease in RARα and RXRα levels compared to control diet-fed obese rats. Further, transmission electron microscopy study revealed an increase in number of BAT mitochondria of obese rats supplemented with 26 and 52 mg of vitamin A/kg diet. Also, obese rats fed on 52 mg/kg diet resulted in increased apoptosis by altering the ratio of Bcl2 to Bax protein levels in eWAT. Notably, most of these changes were not observed in lean rats fed vitamin A-enriched diets.


In conclusion, chronic consumption of 52 mg of vitamin A/kg diet seems to be an effective dose in ameliorating obesity possibly through mitochondriogenesis, UCP1-mediated thermogenesis in BAT and apoptosis in eWAT of obese rats. Therefore, the role of dietary vitamin A in correcting human obesity would be of unquestionable relevance and can only be addressed by future studies.

Mitochondrial Uncoupling

Endelig har jeg begynt å forstå verdien i det de kaller Mitochondrial Uncoupling.

«Uncoupling» innbærer at mitokondriene produserer varme istedet for ATP. I denne prosessen produseres faktisk mer CO2 enn når mitokondriene produserer ATP (energi-molekyl). Overproduksjon av ATP skaper problemer i cellene. Jo mer ATP jo raskere vil cellen bli overstimulert og dø.

Det er «uncoupling» effekten som gir oss livsforlengelse. Jo større evne mitokondriene våre har til å bli «uncoupled», jo lenger vil vi leve.


Denne studien er en rapport fra et møte med 50 forskere som jobber med uncoupling. Den beskriver mye av det fysiologiske med 3 uncoupling proteiner, UPC1,UPC2 og UPC3. Det er UPC1 som gir termogenese(varme):

Uncoupling proteins: current status and therapeutic prospects

In bioenergetics, ‘uncoupling’ refers to any process through which energy released from the combustion of substrate (food) in the mitochondria is not conserved. The final steps in the oxidation of substrate are the transfer of electrons to oxygen, forming water, by the respiratory chain. The energy released is used by the respiratory chain to pump protons out of the mitochondria, as seen in Fig 1A. In most mitochondria, the majority of these protons re-enter through the ATP synthase, and the energy is used to synthesize ATP. However, if the protons re-enter by any other means, the mitochondria are considered to be uncoupled.

As energy in this process is transferred to heat and not stored as fat in the body, the activity of the uncoupling protein(s) can be viewed as an anti-obesity mechanism—a possibility that has attracted much attention, as both pharmaceutical companies and the general public are looking for easy ‘slimming’ agents.


Whether UCP1 needs an ‘activator’ is also a debated issue—however, it is agreed that an activator is necessary in the cell, with most scientists suggesting that fatty acids are good candidates. (Notat: fruktose er også en «aktivator»)

Uncoupling (measured as thermogenesis) is only observed when the cells are adequately stimulated, for example, by norepinephrine (Fig 1B).

However, it was the opinion of several participants at the meeting (in particular, E. Rial, Madrid, Spain, and J. Nedergaard, Stockholm, Sweden) that fatty acids do not participate in the uncoupling process. Instead, the fatty acids function only as anti-inhibitors by relieving the inhibition caused by the purine nucleotides (ATP and ADP) present in the cells—and experimentally by GDP in isolated brown-adipose mitochondria studies (Fig 1B)—prinicpally in accordance with suggestions by Nicholls from the 1970s.

The most discussed hypothesis at the meeting was that UCP2 and UCP3 do indeed function as uncoupling proteins, but only when oxidative stress (superoxide production) can be ameliorated by their activity. This is generally presented as the ‘mild-uncoupling’ hypothesis (Fig 2). It was debated whether this type of ‘not thermogenic but still membrane potential lowering activity’ is bioenergetically possible.

However, the oxidative-stress protection function is supported by the observation that macrophages from UCP2-null mice produce more superoxide, which results in a chronic activation of the NF-κB system with expected inflammatory consequences (S. Collins, Research Triangle Park, NC, USA). In addition, mice without UCP2 are more susceptible than normal mice to chemically induced colon cancer.

Brand suggested that the UCPs—whether or not this includes UCP1 is still open—specifically protect against oxidative damage caused by fatty acids, particularly polyunsaturated fatty acids from membrane phospholipids. These fatty acids can be attacked by mitochondrially-generated superoxide that converts them into 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal (HNE) and then interacts with the UCPs to make them able to conduct protons (or an equivalent). This ‘mild uncoupling’ would decrease the membrane potential and thus diminish the rate of production of superoxide; that is, this would be a self-regulating protective system.

Uncoupling protein 1. In mammals, UCP1 is found only in brown adipose tissue.

Uncoupling protein 2. UCP2 mRNA has been detected in macrophages, lymphocytes, thymocytes, pulmonary cells, enterocytes, adipocytes, pancreatic β-cells and certain neurons and, at a lower level, in liver, muscle and kidney cells. In the brain, UCP2 gene expression is generally low but high levels of UCP2 mRNA have been found in some regions, such as the limbic system and particular subdomains of the hypothalamus (D. Richard, Quebec, Canada).

Uncoupling protein 3. UCP3 expression levels in the skeletal muscle of animals or humans respond to changes in fatty-acid flux (F. Villarroya, Barcelona, Spain; Harper; Dulloo; Schrauwen).

The thyroid hormone tri-iodothyronine has a positive role in the control of UCP3 expression (F. Goglia, Benevento, Italy).


Denne studien fra 2002 beskriver de viktigste prisinippene for hva det vil si å ha evnen til å «uncouple» mitokondrienes energiproduksjon:

Living Fast, Dying When? The Link between Aging and Energetics

Her beskrives prosessen med proton-flyt (H+):

During oxidative phosphorylation electrons from reduced substrates are picked up by ubiquinone (Q) on complex 1 of the mitochondrial membrane. As these electrons are passed from complex 1 down the cytochromes the released energy is used to pump protons across the inner mitochondrial membrane creating a protonmotive force. Finally, in complex 4 the electron combines with a proton and oxygen to form water. The hydrogen ions pass back across the membrane via ATP synthase, resulting in the generation of ATP from ADP and inorganic phosphate, although occasionally protons leak back through the membrane without the creation of ATP, either as a membrane leak or via a specialized protein called an uncoupling protein (UCP), which allows the proton to pass uncoupled from the generation of ATP, but resulting in release of the stored energy as heat. Occasionally, however, this process goes wrong and the oxygen reacts with a reduced form of Q, called ubisemiquinone (QH), which results in generation of a superoxide free radical (O2) (6063).

Animals can reduce the levels of protonmotive force by increasing the extent of uncoupling in their mitochondria. To continue to generate ATP requires elevated oxygen consumption, although the net production of free-radical species is diminished. The animals uncouple respiration to increase their survival (63). This effect is diametrically opposed to the prevailing notion that increasing uncoupling should lead to an increase in free-radical production because of the elevated oxygen consumption (95). Our data are consistent with a protective effect of uncoupling respiration and, consequently, our current efforts are directed at resolving whether those MF1 mice with high-energy expenditures have more uncoupled mitochondria, or elevated levels of protection and repair processes.


Denne studiens overskrift (fra 2004) sier alt:

Uncoupled and surviving: individual mice with high metabolism have greater mitochondrial uncoupling and live longer

Mice in the upper quartile of metabolic intensities had greater resting oxygen consumption by 17% and lived 36% longer than mice in the lowest intensity quartile. Mitochondria isolated from the skeletal muscle of mice in the upper quartile had higher proton conductance than mitochondria from mice from the lowest quartile. The higher conductance was caused by higher levels of endogenous activators of proton leak through the adenine nucleotide translocase and uncoupling protein-3. Individuals with high metabolism were therefore more uncoupled, had greater resting and total daily energy expenditures and survived longest – supporting the ‘uncoupling to survive’ hypothesis.

The work we performed on mitochondria extracted from the second and third cohorts of mice, in combination with the first cohort [Fig. 1] where we showed that mice with higher metabolic intensities lived longest, provide greater support for the ‘uncoupling to survive’ hypothesis than for the ‘rate of living-free-radical damage’ hypothesis, at the level of individual phenotypic differences in metabolic intensity. Since we used an outbred strain kept in constant environmental conditions, presumably these phenotypic differences have a genetic component at their origin; this conclusion is supported by the fact that the same association between longevity and metabolic intensity is also observed across inbred strains (Storer et al., 1967).


Denne studien fra 1993 nevner at «uncoupled» mitkondria produserer mer CO2:

Characterization of the folate-dependent mitochondrial oxidation of carbon 3 of serine.

In contrast, CO2 production was greatest in uncoupled mitochondria and lowest in respiratory-inhibited mitochondria.

Melatonin prevents mitochondrial dysfunction and insulin resistance in rat skeletal muscle.

Om hvordan melatonin beskytter mitokondriene i muskler og insulin resistens.

Teodore 2014.


Melatonin has a number of beneficial metabolic actions and reduced levels of melatonin may contribute to type 2 diabetes. The present study investigated the metabolic pathways involved in the effects of melatonin on mitochondrial function and insulin resistance in rat skeletal muscle. The effect of melatonin was tested both in vitro in isolated rats skeletal muscle cells and in vivo using pinealectomized rats (PNX). Insulin resistance was induced in vitro by treating primary rat skeletal muscle cells with palmitic acid for 24 hr. Insulin-stimulated glucose uptake was reduced by palmitic acid followed by decreased phosphorylation of AKT which was prevented my melatonin. Palmitic acid reduced mitochondrial respiration, genes involved in mitochondrial biogenesis and the levels of tricarboxylic acid cycle intermediates whereas melatonin counteracted all these parameters in insulin-resistant cells. Melatonin treatment increases CAMKII and p-CREB but had no effect on p-AMPK. Silencing of CREB protein by siRNA reduced mitochondrial respiration mimicking the effect of palmitic acid and prevented melatonin-induced increase in p-AKT in palmitic acid-treated cells. PNX rats exhibited mild glucose intolerance, decreased energy expenditure and decreased p-AKT, mitochondrial respiration, and p-CREB and PGC-1 alpha levels in skeletal muscle which were restored by melatonin treatment in PNX rats. In summary, we showed that melatonin could prevent mitochondrial dysfunction and insulin resistance via activation of CREB-PGC-1 alpha pathway. Thus, the present work shows that melatonin play an important role in skeletal muscle mitochondrial function which could explain some of the beneficial effects of melatonin in insulin resistance states.

Oxygen regulation and limitation to cellular respiration in mouse skeletal muscle in vivo

Denen Studien sier noe ekstremt viktig: Oksygen, mye eller lite, har ingen ting med regulering av cellerespirasjon å gjøre annet enn å være tilgjengelig som et substrat (altså noe cellene kan leve på). De nevner at oksygen bare blir et problem om det går under 2-3 mmHg. Og at blodceller virker som enn buffer ved at de slipper av oxygen for å holde det ovenfor

Marcinek 2003. Oxygen regulation and limitation to cellular respiration in mouse skeletal muscle in vivo.

Therefore, we reject a regulatory role for oxygen in cellular respiration and conclude that oxygen acts as a simple substrate for respiration under physiological conditions.

LOW OXYGEN TENSIONS are characteristic of active muscle. During maximal aerobic exercise, intracellular PO2 in skeletal muscle falls to as low as 2–3 mmHg based on an average myoglobin (Mb) saturation of ∼50% (2427). The intracellular oxygen tension at the maximal rate of sustained exercise sets the lower end of the range of physiologically relevant intracellular PO2 values. These values are just above the threshold where isolated mitochondria (12,29), isolated cells (3940), and intact muscle (28) begin to become oxygen limited. Thus the intracellular PO2 reached during heavy muscle exercise may approach the threshold for limiting cellular respiration in vivo.

Experiments in isolated mitochondria and cells have shown that the respiration rate remains relatively constant over the physiological PO2 range (1236), with a clear reduction occurring only at PO2 below 2–3 mmHg.

Our in vivo results from the mouse hindlimb indicate that until a threshold PO2 is reached (2–3 mmHg), there is no effect of oxygen tension on the phosphorylation state of the cell.

In mouse skeletal muscle in vivo, oxygen tension in the physiological range had no significant effect on cellular respiration over a threefold range of baseline rates of oxygen consumption. This is the expected outcome if oxygen is acting as a simple substrate with no significant regulatory role under physiological conditions.

Thus we found no evidence for a change in the relationship between respiration rate and intracellular PO2 with a greater than threefold increase in the fully oxygenated respiration rate. This leads us to conclude that oxygen is not limiting to cellular oxygen consumption and, therefore, does not play a significant role in regulating cellular respiration in vivo under these conditions.

Studies on exercising human muscle support the conclusion that oxygen tension in skeletal muscle does not fall to levels low enough to significantly inhibit cellular respiration except under extreme physiological conditions [i.e., maximum oxygen consumption (V̇O2 max) in trained individuals]. These studies indicate that Mb saturations at the aerobic capacity of human skeletal muscle are ∼50% in vivo (2.4 mmHg) (2427). Our results indicate that above this intracellular PO2, there is little effect of oxygen tension on the cellular respiration rate over the range tested in the present study.

Decreasing the capacity for oxygen delivery by breathing hypoxic air was found to drop Mb saturation below the 50% level and to reduce oxygen consumption during exercise (26). In contrast, supplementing oxygen by breathing of hyperoxic air during a maximum oxygen consumption test either did not effect or resulted in a small increase (∼10%) in V̇O2 max (625).

The transition between oxygen-independent and oxygen-dependent respiration in vivo also occurs in this range of intracellular oxygen tensions (2–3 mmHg). Therefore, an important role of Mb in skeletal muscle may be as an oxygen buffer to help maintain intracellular PO2 above the point at which it becomes limiting to cellular respiration.

In conclusion, the findings of the present study lead us to reject the hypothesis that oxygen plays a regulatory role in cellular respiration over the physiological range of intracellular oxygen tensions. This conclusion is based on the absence of interaction between [PCr], pH (and therefore phosphorylation state), oxygen consumption, and PO2 above 3 mmHg over a greater than threefold range in oxygen consumption rates. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that oxygen acts as a simple substrate for cellular respiration over the physiological range of oxygen tensions.

The evolutionary origin of form and function

Spennende studie som nevner at gener har lite med utvikling av organismer å gjøre. Det er heller «the second law of thermodynamics» som styrer det.

In summary, we propose that the life process is based not on genetic variation, but on the second law of thermodynamics (hereinafter the second law) and the principle of least action, as proposed for thermodynamically open systems by De Maupertuis (Ville et al2008), which at the most fundamental level say the same thing.

Det som avgjør om en organisme er levedyktig eller ikke er dens evne til å hente energi fra omgivelsene. For oss kan dette peke på jo mer effektiv blodsirkulasjonens distribusjon av oksygen til cellene er, jo mer fri energi har vi tilgjengelig.

In this reformulation form and function, extant and extinct, are the consequence of natural selection acting primarily upon the ability of organisms to extract energy (nutrient) from their environment, as pointed out in 1835, prior to the publication of Origin, by Edward Blyth (Blyth, 1835).

De reformulerer også definisjonen på entropi, som vanligvis er sett på som kaos. Her sier de at det egentlig bør oppfattes som en organisert kompleksitet fordi den bundede energien i lavere livsformer er tilgjengelig som fri energi for høyere livsformer. Det er fullt mulig dette kan forståes i sammenheng med mitokondrias funksjon for oss. Energien som mitokondria skaper blir tilgjengelig som fri energi for oss.

Energy, in the form of nutrient, is consumed, thereby producing entropy, according to the second law in the most efficient way (least action) possible given the conditions. Under these circumstances, explicitly thermodynamically open systems, entropy is maximised in the form of organisation or complexity (Sharma & Annila, 2007) and not, as proposed by Boltzmann, disorder (Sharma & Annila2007). In terms of the food chain, the entropy (bound energy) of lower forms is available as free energy (nutrient) for higher forms.

Gener fungerer bare som en blueprint for de erfaringene molekyler og celler gjør seg med omgivelsene. Genene er notisblokken.

We predicate the current proposal on a metabolism-first origin of life (Baverstock, 2013), in which proteins, free of DNA, were a form of proto-life. Life appeared when these proto-life forms recruited nucleic acids in the form of DNA to act as a template for replication and to code for essential peptides (Annila & Baverstock, 2014) through the process of reverse translation making it possible for true replication to occur.

Sett i lys av dette kan vi innse at gen-mutasjon har lite å gjøre med evolusjon.

In other words mutation of existing coding sequences is unnecessary for evolution to have taken place – that is not to say that evolution has not taken advantage of mutational events, but that genetic variation is not rate limiting.

De forklarer også hvorfor f.eks. en mus og et menneske har nesten helt samme genuttykk, men helt forskjellig form og funksjon.

Thus, for example, mouse and man are phenotypically distinct organisms with closely similar genotypes (Baverstock, 2011), that is, a near identical complement of peptides, which give rise through dissipative information generating processes within the cell, to two distinct information outputs (phenotypes).

De konkluderer med at utvikling skjer ved at en organisme utvikler bedre måter å tilegne seg energi fra omgivelsene på. F.eks. kan mitokontria, respirasjonssystemet, sirkulasjonssystemet og nervesystemet være funksjoner som gir bedre tilegning og utnyttelse av energi i en organisme slik vi er. 

The evolution of multicellular organisms with complex forms and functional abilities can be accounted for based on a fundamental tenet underpinned by the second law of thermodynamics, with natural selection acting on the ability of the organism to transduct energy (nutrient) most efficiently from its ecosystem by deploying that form and those functions.

Evolution of Air Breathing: Oxygen Homeostasis and the Transitions from Water to Land and Sky

Omfattende studie som beskriver hvordan vi har tilpasset oss høyere nivåer av oksygen. Bekrefter alle innspill jeg har hatt om oksygen sin destruktive effekt og at beskyttelsen mot oksygenets skadevirkninger er viktigere enn å få mer oksygen inn i kroppen. Lunger, sirkulasjonssystem, hemoglobin, antioksidantsystem og det at mitokondriene er godt gjemt inni en annen celle som er godt beskyttet av en tett cellevegg er forsvars- og reguleringsmekanismer mot det livsfarlige men også livsnødvendige oksygenet.

Nevner at den opprinnelige atmosfæren bestod av veldig lite O2(1-2% eller 2,4 mmHg) og mer enn dobbelt så mye CO2. Dette er miljøet mitokondriene ble utviklet i for 2,7 billioner år siden, og som de fortsatt lever i inni cellene våre. Om oksygennivået økes tilmer enn dette blir mitokondriene dårligere og mister sin funksjon.

Nevner også at forsvarsmekanismene mot oksygen var tilstede helt fra starten. Og hemoglobin (blodcelle i dyr) og klorofyll (i planter) tilfredstiller alle de nødvendige beskyttende egenskapene vi trenger mot oksygen.

Nevner at CO2 var den første antioksidanten i evolusjonen.

Beskriver også det som skjer i mitokondria, at hypoxi (lavere O2 tilgjengelighet) gir mindre ROS og økt mitochondrial uncoupling (produksjon av varme istedet for ATP). Vi kan se dette som om mitokondriene går på tomgang med lavt turtall, mens ATP produksjon er høyt turtall og dermed også mer slitasje.

Nevner også evolusjonen av diafragma som den primære pustemuskelen.

Life originated in anoxia, but many organisms came to depend upon oxygen for survival, independently evolving diverse respiratory systems for acquiring oxygen from the environment. Ambient oxygen tension (PO2) fluctuated through the ages in correlation with biodiversity and body size, enabling organisms to migrate from water to land and air and sometimes in the opposite direction. Habitat expansion compels the use of different gas exchangers, for example, skin, gills, tracheae, lungs, and their intermediate stages, that may coexist within the same species; coexistence may be temporally disjunct (e.g., larval gills vs. adult lungs) or simultaneous (e.g., skin, gills, and lungs in some salamanders). Disparate systems exhibit similar directions of adaptation: toward larger diffusion interfaces, thinner barriers, finer dynamic regulation, and reduced cost of breathing. Efficient respiratory gas exchange, coupled to downstream convective and diffusive resistances, comprise the “oxygen cascade”—step-down of PO2 that balances supply against toxicity. Here, we review the origin of oxygen homeostasis, a primal selection factor for all respiratory systems, which in turn function as gatekeepers of the cascade. Within an organism’s lifespan, the respiratory apparatus adapts in various ways to upregulate oxygen uptake in hypoxia and restrict uptake in hyperoxia. In an evolutionary context, certain species also become adapted to environmental conditions or habitual organismic demands. We, therefore, survey the comparative anatomy and physiology of respiratory systems from invertebrates to vertebrates, water to air breathers, and terrestrial to aerial inhabitants. Through the evolutionary directions and variety of gas exchangers, their shared features and individual compromises may be appreciated.


Oxygen, a vital gas and a lethal toxin, represents a trade-off with which all organisms have had a conflicted relationship. While aerobic respiration is essential for efficient metabolic energy production, a prerequisite for complex organisms, cumulative cellular oxygen stress has also made senescence and death inevitable. Harnessing the energy from oxidative phosphorylation while minimizing cellular stress and damage is an eternal struggle transcending specific organ systems or species, a conflict that shaped an assortment of gas-exchange systems.

The respiratory organ is the “gatekeeper” that determines the amount of oxygen available for distribution. Gas exchangers arose as simple air-blood diffusion interfaces that in active animals progressively gained in complexity in coordination with the cardiovascular system, leading to serial “step-downs” of oxygen tension to maintain homeostasis between uptake distribution and cellular protection.

While a comprehensive treatment of the evolutionary physiology of respiration is beyond the scope of any one article, here we focuses on the first step of the oxygen cascade—convection and diffusion in the gas-exchange organ—to provide an overview of the diversity of nature’s “solutions” to the dilemma of acquiring enough but not too much oxygen from the environment.

Ubiquity of Reactive Oxygen Species

As reviewed by Lane (407) and Maina (466), the primary atmosphere contained mainly nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and water vapor. Much of these were swept away by meteorite bombardment and replaced with a secondary atmosphere (416-418, 579, 590) consisting of hydrogen sulfide, cyanide, carbon monoxide, carbon doxide, methane, and more water vapor from volcanic eruptions. Only trace oxygen (<0.01% present atmospheric level) existed (418), originated from inorganic (photolysis and peroxy hydrolysis) (622) and organic (photosynthesis) sources.

Oxidative respiration is the reverse process as O2 accepts four electrons successively to form water. Many of these steps are catalyzed by transitional metal ions (e.g., iron, copper, and magnesium). Therefore, aerobic respiration, oxygen toxicity and radiation poisoning represent equivalent forms of oxidative stress (407).

Origin of Oxygen Sensing and Antioxidation—Metalloproteins

If oxidative stress was present from the beginning, early anaerobic organisms must have possessed effective antioxidant defenses, including mechanism(s) for controlled O2 sensing, storage, transport, and release as well as pathways for neutralizing ROS. The general class of compounds that fulfill these requirements is the metalloproteins that transfer electrons via transitional metals (766, 767), for example, heme proteins and chlorophyll (Fig. 2).

Hydrogen may have been the first electron donor and CO2 the first electron acceptor for synthesizing ATP by chemiosmosis (408).

Because of a high redox potential of O2 as the terminal electron acceptor in electron transport, aerobic respiration is far more efficient in energy production (36 moles of ATP per mole of glucose) than anaerobic respiration (~5 moles). Aerobic multicellular organisms arose approximately 1 Ga and more complex organisms such as marine molluscs thrived approximately 550 to 500 million years ago (Ma). Exposed to a still low O2 tension in the deep sea, these organisms uniformly possessed metalloprotein respiratory pigments with a characteristically high O2 affinity for efficient O2 storage and slow O2 release thereby avoiding flooding the cell with excessive ROS (783). Contemporary myoglobin continues to perform this regulatory function in muscle.

It is well recognized that embryos and undifferentiated cells grow better in a hypoxia (129, 153). A low O2 tension (1%-5%) is an important component of the embryonic and mesenchymal stem cell “niche” that maintains stem cell properties, minimizes oxidative stress, prevents chromosomal abnormalities, improves clonal survival, and perpetuates the undifferentiated characteristics (457). In addition, hypoxia stimulates endothelial cell proliferation, migration, tubulogenesis, and stress resistance (752, 850) as well as preferential growth and vascularization of many malignant tumor cells; the latter observation constitutes the basis for the use of adjuvant hyperoxia to enhance tumor killing during irradiation and chemotherapy (277,738). Collectively, these responses to O2 tension suggest that the pulmonary gas-exchange organs adapted in a direction toward controlled restriction of cellular exposure to O2.

Origin of the Oxygen Cascade

The oxygen cascade (Fig. 6) describes serial step-downs of O2 tension from ambient air through successive resistances across the pulmonary, cardiac, macrovascular and microvascular systems into the cell and mitochondria. These resistances adapt in a coordinated fashion in response to changes in ambient O2 availability or utilization (333). Traditional paradigm holds that the primary selection pressure in the evolution of O2 transport systems is the efficiency of O2 delivery to meet cellular metabolic demands. If this is the sole function of the cascade, why are there so many resistances? Once we accept the anaerobic origin of eukaryotes and their persistent preference for hypoxia, an alternative paradigm becomes plausible, namely, the entire oxygen cascade could be viewed as an elaborate gate-keeping mechanism the major function of which is to balance cellular O2 delivery against oxidative damage.

Mitochondria consume the majority of cellular O2, directly control intracellular O2 tension, and generate most of the cellular ROS (136). Intracellular O2 tension in turn regulates mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation, ROS production, cell signaling, and gene expression. Via O2-dependent oxidative phosphorylation the mitochondria act as cellular O2 sensors in the regulation of diverse responses from local blood flow to electric activity (830). Earlier studies reported that hypoxia increases mitochondrial ROS generation (126, 782, 823) via several mechanisms: (i) O2 limitation at the terminal complex IV (cytochrome c oxidase) in the mitochondrial electron transport chain causes electrons to back up the chain with increased electron leak to form superoxide (•O2−). (ii) Hypoxia induces conformational changes in complex III (ubiquinol cytochrome c oxidoreductase) to enhance superoxide formation (88, 287). (iii) Oxidized cytochrome c scavenges superoxide (722). Hypoxia-induced O2 limitation at complex IV leads to cytochrome c reduction, limiting its ability to scavenge superoxide and enhancing mitochondrial ROS leakage. However, recent studies of isolated mitochondria show that hypoxia actually reduces mitochondrial ROS generation and causes mitochondrial uncoupling, suggesting extramitochondrial sources of ROS generation in hypoxia (330). These conflicting reports remain to be resolved. Nonetheless, moderate hypoxia rapidly and reversibly downregulates mitochondrial enzyme transcripts, in parallel with reductions in mitochondrial respiratory activity and O2 consumption (631).

As paleo-atmospheric O2 concentration increased and multicellular aerobic organisms arose, the endosymbiotic mitochondria-host relationship faced the challenge of balancing conflicting needs of aerobic energy generation for the host cell and anaerobic protection for its internal power generator. The host cell must finely control a constant supply of O2 to the mitochondria for oxidative phosphorylation while simultaneously protecting mitochondria against oxidative damage by maintaining a near-anoxic level of local O2 concentration. This trade-off may have led to the evolution of ever more elaborate physicochemical barriers that created and maintained successive O2 partial pressure gradients, by convection and diffusion in the lung, chemical binding to hemoglobin, distribution and release via cardiovascular delivery, dissociation from hemoglobin, and diffusion into peripheral cells with or without myoglobin facilitated transport. As a result, the primordial anoxic conditions of the Earth necessary for survival and optimal function of this proteobacterial remnant are preserved inside the host cell. In working human leg muscle O2 tension at the sarcoplasmic and mitochondrial boundaries has been estimated at approximately 2.4 mmHg (0.32 kPa) (835) and muscle mitochondrial O2 concentration at half-maximal metabolic rate 0.02 to 0.2 mmHg (834), that is, in the range of the ancient atmospheric level approximately 2 Ga. Raising O2 tension above these levels impairs mitochondrial activity (672). In this context, protection of mitochondria from O2 exposure likely constitutes a major selection factor in the evolution of complex aerobic life while the various forms of systemic O2 delivery systems are necessary but secondary functions that sustain the “gate-keeping” barrier apparatus to maintain adequate partial pressure gradients along the O2 transport cascade and preserve the near-anoxic intracellular conditions for the mitochondria. In parallel with physical barriers, cells also developed various biochemical scavenging and antioxidant pathways to counteract the toxic effects of ROS as ambient oxygenation increased.

Defense against the Dark Arts of Oxidation

To summarize, the evolution of life on Earth has adapted to a wide range of ambient O2 levels from 0% to 35%. Periods of relative hyperoxia promote biodiversity and gigantism but incur excess oxidative stress and mandating the upregulation of antioxidant defenses. Periods of relative hypoxia promote coordinated conservation of resources and downregulation of metabolic capacities to improve energy efficiency and channel some savings into compensatory growth of gas-exchange organs. The trajectory of early evolution is at least partly coupled to O2 content of the atmosphere and the deep ocean, and there is a plausible explanation for the coupling, namely, defense against the dark arts of oxidation. Oxygen is capable of giving and taking life. The anaerobic proteobacteria escaped the fate of annihilation by taking refuge inside another cell and in a brilliant evolutionary move coopted its own oxygen-detoxifying machinery to provide essential sustenance for the host cell in return for nourishment and physical protection from oxidation. As the threat of oxidation increased with rising environmental O2 concentration, selection pressure escalated for ever more sophisticated defense mechanisms against oxidative injury and in direct conflict with simultaneously escalating selection pressures to harness the energetic advantage of oxidative phosphorylation.

Trading off the above opposing demands shaped all known respiratory organs, from simple O2 diffusion across cell membranes to facilitated transport via O2 binding proteins to gas-exchange systems of varying complexity (skin, gills, tracheae, book lung, alveolar lung, and avian lung) (Sections 2-5). Concurrently evolving with a convective transport system, these increasingly elaborate respiratory organs not only increase O2 uptake but also maintain air-to-mitochondria O2 tension gradients and intracellular O2 fluxes at a hospitable ancestral level. This epic struggle began at the dawn of life and persisted to the present on a universal scale. The evolutionary trajectory of air breathing has continued contemporary significance to the understanding of oxygen-dependent metabolic homeostasis, especially in relation to maturation, senescence, and aging-related organ degeneration and disease.