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Hopkins Study Reveals Key Details On How We Get Energy

Biochemists at Johns Hopkins report they have solved a major mystery surrounding the way most organisms -- including people -- get energy. Their discovery, in this month's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,caps decades of research on how cells make the common currency of energy, a molecule called ATP.

The Hopkins finding, which explains at the most fundamental level how energy from food ultimately yields ATP, also offers a new focus for studies about why most people get less energetic with age. The work was supported by NIH grants.

The research team led by L. Mario Amzel, Ph.D., and Peter Pedersen, Ph.D., used X-ray crystallography to reveal the molecular structure of adenosine triphosphate synthase, a dervish-like enzyme. Inside, the molecule whirls around several times a second while it triggers production of ATP. "It's one of the most complex molecules ever revealed, almost six times larger than the blood molecule hemoglobin," says Pedersen. It's also, the researchers agree, one of the tiniest and most powerful motors ever identified.

ATP synthase molecules are located within mitochondria, the oval- to bean-shaped structures scattered in cells and long known as the site of energy production. The molecules stick out on the mitochondria, attached to their inner surfaces in mushroom-like clusters.

When food is broken down or metabolized for energy, the last stages of the process occur within the mitochondria.

The ATP synthase molecule, has two parts. Recently, scientists in Japan discovered that one part, the "mushroom stem," apparently rotates within the "mushroom cap." Last year, a Nobel prize was awarded to the researcher (Paul Boyer, Ph.D., UCLA) who suggested that forming ATP was somehow tied to this rotation, and the prize was shared with another researcher (John Walker, Ph.D., Medical Research Council Laboratory, Cambridge, England) whose team laid out one of two poss
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Contact: Marjorie Centofanti
mcentofanti@jhmi.edu
(410) 955-8725
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
15-Sep-1998


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