We have seen that there is no simple answer to the question ‘what controls respiration?’ The answer varies with (a) the size of the system examined (mitochondria, cell or organ), (b) the conditions (rate of ATP use, level of hormonal stimulation), and (c) the particular organ examined. Of the various theories of control of respiration outlined in the introduction the ideas of Chance & Williams (1955, 1956) give the basic mechanism of how respiration is regulated. Increased ATP usage can cause increased respiration and ATP synthesis by mass action in all the main tissues. Superimposed on this basic mechanism is calcium control of matrix dehydrogenases (at least in heart and liver), and possibly also of the respiratory chain (at least in liver) and ATP synthase (at least in heart). In many tissues calcium also stimulates ATP usage directly; thus calcium may stimulate energy metabolism at (at least) four possible sites, the importance of each regulation varying with tissue. Regulation of multiple sites may occur (from a teleological point of view) because: (a) energy metabolism is branched and thus proportionate regulation of branches is required in order to maintain constant fluxes to branches (e.g. to proton leak or different ATP uses); and/or (b) control over fluxes is shared by a number of reactions, so that large increases in flux requires stimulation at multiple sites because each site has relatively little control. Control may be distributed throughout energy metabolism, possibly due to the necessity of minimizing cell protein levels (see Brown, 1991). The idea that energy metabolism is regulated by energy charge (as proposed by Atkinson, 1968, 1977) is misleading in mammals. Neither mitochondrial ATP synthesis nor cellular ATP usage is a unique function of energy charge as AMP is not a significant regulator (see for example Erecinska et al., 1977). The near-equilibrium hypothesis of Klingenberg (1961) and Erecinska & Wilson (1982) is partially correct in that oxidative phosphorylation is often close to equilibrium (apart from cytochrome oxidase) and as a consequence respiration and ATP synthesis are mainly regulated by (a) the phosphorylation potential, and (b) the NADH/NAD+ ratio. However, oxidative phosphorylation is not always close to equilibrium, at least in isolated mitochondria, and relative proximity to equilibrium does not prevent the respiratory chain, the proton leak, the ATP synthase and ANC having significant control over the fluxes. Thus in some conditions respiration rate correlates better with [ADP] than with phosphorylation potential, and may be relatively insensitive to mitochondrial NADH/NAD+ ratio.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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