Structural determinants of fluorochemical-induced mitochondrial dysfunction

A. A. Starkov, Kendall B Wallace

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

162 Scopus citations


Perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) are thought to induce peroxisome proliferation and interfere with mitochondrial metabolic pathways. Direct measurements revealed that PFOA and the unsubstituted sulfonamide of perfluorooctane (FOSA) uncouple mitochondrial respiration by increasing proton conductance. The purpose of this investigation was to characterize structural determinants responsible for the mitochondrial uncoupling effect of several structurally related fluorochemicals. Included in the study were PFOA, PFOS, FOSA, the N-acetate of FOSA (perfluorooctanesulfonamidoacetate, FOSAA), N-ethylperfluorooctanesulfonamide (N-EtFOSA), and the N-ethyl alcohol [2-(N-ethylperfluorooctanesulfonamido)ethyl alcohol, N-EtFOSE] and N-acetic acid (N-ethylperfluorooctanesulfonamidoacetate, N-Et-FOSAA) of N-EtFOSA. Each test compound was dissolved in ethanol and added directly to an incubation medium containing substrate-energized rat liver mitochondria. Mitochondrial respiration and membrane potential were measured concurrently using an oxygen electrode and a TPP+-selective electrode, respectively. All of the compounds tested, at sufficiently high concentrations, had the capacity to interfere with mitochondrial respiration, albeit via different mechanisms and with varying potencies. At sufficiently high concentrations, the free acids PFOA and PFOS caused a slight increase in the intrinsic proton leak of the mitochondrial inner membrane, which resembled a surfactant-like change in membrane fluidity. Similar effects were observed with the sulfonamide N-EtFOSE. Another fully substituted sulfonamide, N-EtFOSAA, at high concentrations caused inhibition of respiration, the release of cytochrome c, and high-amplitude swelling of mitochondria. The swelling was prevented by cyclosporin A or by EGTA, indicating that this compound induced the mitochondrial permeability transition. The unsubstituted and mono-substituted amides FOSA, N-EtFOSA, and FOSAA all exerted a strong uncoupling effect on mitochondria resembling that of protonophoric uncouplers. Among these compounds, FOSA was a very potent uncoupler of oxidative phosphorylation, with an IC50 of approximately 1 μM. These data suggest that the protonated nitrogen atom with a favorable pKa is essential for the uncoupling action of perfluorooctane sulfonamides in mitochondria, which may be critical to the mechanism by which these compounds interfere with mitochondrial metabolism to induce peroxisome proliferation in vivo.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)244-252
Number of pages9
JournalToxicological Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002


  • Mitochondria
  • Perfluoroalkanes
  • Peroxisome proliferator
  • Structure-activity


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