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Complex I activity in hypoxia: implications for oncometabolism.

Certain cancer cells within solid tumors experience hypoxia, rendering them incapable of oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS). Despite this oxygen deficiency, these cells exhibit biochemical pathway activity that relies on NAD+. This mini-review scrutinizes the persistent, residual Complex I activity that oxidizes NADH in the absence of oxygen as the electron acceptor. The resulting NAD+ assumes a pivotal role in fueling the α-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase complex, a critical component in the oxidative decarboxylation branch of glutaminolysis - a hallmark oncometabolic pathway. The proposition is that through glutamine catabolism, high-energy phosphate intermediates are produced via substrate-level phosphorylation in the mitochondrial matrix substantiated by succinyl-CoA ligase, partially compensating for an OXPHOS deficiency. These insights provide a rationale for exploring Complex I inhibitors in cancer treatment, even when OXPHOS functionality is already compromised.

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