In eukaryotic cells, mitochondria perform cellular respiration through a series of redox reactions ultimately reducing molecular oxygen to water. The system responsible for this process is the respiratory chain or electron transport system (ETS) composed of complexes I–IV. Due to its function, the ETS is the main source of reactive oxygen species (ROS), generating them on both sides of the mitochondrial inner membrane, i.e. the intermembrane space (IMS) and the matrix. A correct balance between ROS generation and scavenging is important for keeping the cellular redox homeostasis and other important aspects of cellular physiology. However, ROS generated in the mitochondria are important signaling molecules regulating mitochondrial biogenesis and function. The IMS contains a large number of redox sensing proteins, containing specific Cys-rich domains, that are involved in ETS complex biogenesis. The large majority of these proteins function as cytochrome c oxidase (COX) assembly factors, mainly for the handling of copper ions necessary for the formation of the redox reactive catalytic centers. A particular case of ROS-regulated COX assembly factor is COA8, whose intramitochondrial levels are increased by oxidative stress, promoting COX assembly and/or protecting the enzyme from oxidative damage. In this review, we will discuss the current knowledge concerning the role played by ROS in regulating mitochondrial activity and biogenesis, focusing on the COX enzyme and with a special emphasis on the functional role exerted by the redox sensitive Cys residues contained in the COX assembly factors.

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