What Do Magnetic Resonance–Based Measurements of Pi→ATP Flux Tell Us About Skeletal Muscle Metabolism?

  1. Kevin M. Brindle2
  1. 1Department of Musculoskeletal Biology and Magnetic Resonance and Image Analysis Research Centre, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, U.K.
  2. 2Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge and Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute, Li Ka Shing Centre, Cambridge, U.K.
  1. Corresponding author: Graham J. Kemp, gkemp{at}


Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) methods offer a potentially valuable window into cellular metabolism. Measurement of flux between inorganic phosphate (Pi) and ATP using 31P MRS magnetization transfer has been used in resting muscle to assess what is claimed to be mitochondrial ATP synthesis and has been particularly popular in the study of insulin effects and insulin resistance. However, the measured Pi→ATP flux in resting skeletal muscle is far higher than the true rate of oxidative ATP synthesis, being dominated by a glycolytically mediated Pi↔ATP exchange reaction that is unrelated to mitochondrial function. Furthermore, even if measured accurately, the ATP production rate in resting muscle has no simple relationship to mitochondrial capacity as measured either ex vivo or in vivo. We summarize the published measurements of Pi→ATP flux, concentrating on work relevant to diabetes and insulin, relate it to current understanding of the physiology of mitochondrial ATP synthesis and glycolytic Pi↔ATP exchange, and discuss some possible implications of recently reported correlations between Pi→ATP flux and other physiological measures.

  • Received December 8, 2011.
  • Accepted March 30, 2012.

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