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Hopkins Study Reveals Key Details On How We Get Energy

ible structures for the "cap," which is believed to be short-lived.

In this new study, the Hopkins team determined the other structure, believed to be the most common form, in living organisms. The ATP synthase "mushroom cap," they found, contains three identical areas, arranged like a coil, where ATP is made. Each area is occupied with a different stage in ATP production.

As the "stem" rotates, it creates a powerful internal shifting in each of the three coiled sections within the cap. This shifting provides the energy to cause chemical changes. At one site, the "ingredients" for ATP come together. At another site, they assemble as ATP, and at the third site, the rotation readies the fully formed ATP to pop off the synthase molecule, for use throughout the cell.

The Hopkins team captured the image of the ATP synthase cap while all of its sites were in some stage of making ATP, which is essential for the constant recycling of its precursors. Without this recycling, Pedersen says, "people would have to produce more than half their body weight in ATP every day to meet their energy needs."

Some scientists have speculated that the same "free radicals" that damage skin in aging or cause mutations also might damage mitochondria. "If ATP synthase is a site of free radical damage, that could explain why we become less energetic with age," Pedersen says. Now that we know the molecular structures, we can pinpoint damaged regions if they occur."

Also on the research team were Mario A. Bianchet, Ph.D., and Joanne Hullihen.

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Karen Infeld (410)955-1534
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Contact: Marjorie Centofanti
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(410) 955-8725
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
15-Sep-1998


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