The natural polyamines spermine, spermidine and putrescine, polycationic molecules at physiological pH, interact with mitochondrial membranes at two specific binding sites exhibiting low affinity and high binding capacity. This binding represents the first step in the electrophoretic mechanism of polyamine transport into mitochondria. Spermine accumulated into the mitochondrial matrix is able to flow out by an electroneutral mechanism. This process promotes bi-directional transport of polyamines in and out of mitochondria, driven by electrical potential and pH gradient, respectively. Polyamines and biogenic amines are oxidized by cytosolic and mitochondrial amine oxidases with the production of hydrogen peroxide and aldehydes, both of which are involved in the induction and / or amplification of the mitochondrial permeability transition (MPT). This phenomenon, which provokes a bioenergetic collapse and redox catastrophe, is strongly inhibited by polyamines in isolated mitochondria. Monoamines also exhibit an inhibitory effect at higher concentrations, but at low concentrations behave as inducer agents. MPT is characterized by the opening of a channel, the transition pore, which permits nonspecific bi-directional traffic of solutes across the inner membrane, leading to swelling of the organelle and release of cytochrome c and apoptosis-inducing factors. These proteins in turn activate the caspase-cascade, which triggers the apoptotic pathway. Depending on their cytosolic concentration, metabolic conditions and cell type, polyamines act as promoting, modulating or protective agents in mitochondrial-mediated apoptosis. While their protective effect could reflect inhibition of MPT and retention of cytochrome c, the promoting effect can be explained by the generation of reactive oxygen species that induce the opposite effect on MPT and cytochrome c release. Polyamines and other active amines can also participate in the regulation of apoptotic pathways by interacting with the mitochondrial tyrosine phosphorylation / dephosphorylation system. Future studies of the multifaceted interactions of polyamines with mitochondria will thus have a substantial impact on our understanding of the physiology of cell proliferation death at several mechanistic levels.
Keywords: polyamines, biogenic amines, mitochondria, permeability transition, apoptosis