In the mitochondrion of eukaryotes and in aerobic prokaryotes, cytochrome b is a component of respiratory chain complex III (EC 18.104.22.168) — also known as the bc1 complex or ubiquinol-cytochrome c reductase. In plant chloroplasts and cyanobacteria, there is an analogous protein, cytochrome b6, a component of the plastoquinone-plastocyanin reductase (EC 22.214.171.124), also known as the b6f complex. These complexes are involved in electron transport, the pumping of protons to create a proton-motive force (PMF). This proton gradient is used for the generation of ATP. These complexes play a vital role in cells.
Cytochrome b/b6 is an integral membrane protein of approximately 400 amino acid residues that probably has 8 transmembrane segments. In plants and cyanobacteria, cytochrome b6 consists of two subunits encoded by the petB and petD genes. Cytochrome b/b6 non-covalently binds two heme groups, known as b562 and b566. Four conserved histidine residues are postulated to be the ligands of the iron atoms of these two heme groups.
Cytochrome b is commonly used as a region of mitochondrial DNA for determining phylogenetic relationships between organisms, due to its sequence variability. It is considered to be most useful in determining relationships within families and genera. Comparative studies involving cytochrome b have resulted in new classification schemes and have been used to assign newly described species to a genus as well as to deepen the understanding of evolutionary relationships.
Mutations in cytochrome b primarily result in exercise intolerance in human patients; though more rare, severe multi-system pathologies have also been reported.
Single-point mutations in cytochrome b of Plasmodium falciparum and P. berghei are associated with resistance to the anti-malarial drug atovaquone.