Pyruvate is the end-product of glycolysis, a major substrate for oxidative metabolism, and a branching point for glucose, lactate, fatty acid and amino acid synthesis. The mitochondrial enzymes that metabolize pyruvate are physically separated from cytosolic pyruvate pools and rely on a membrane transport system to shuttle pyruvate across the impermeable inner mitochondrial membrane (IMM). Despite long-standing acceptance that transport of pyruvate into the mitochondrial matrix by a carrier-mediated process is required for the bulk of its metabolism, it has taken almost 40 years to determine the molecular identity of an IMM pyruvate carrier. Our current understanding is that two proteins, mitochondrial pyruvate carriers MPC1 and MPC2, form a hetero-oligomeric complex in the IMM to facilitate pyruvate transport. This step is required for mitochondrial pyruvate oxidation and carboxylation–critical reactions in intermediary metabolism that are dysregulated in several common diseases. The identification of these transporter constituents opens the door to the identification of novel compounds that modulate MPC activity, with potential utility for treating diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and other common causes of morbidity and mortality. The purpose of the present review is to detail the historical, current and future research investigations concerning mitochondrial pyruvate transport, and discuss the possible consequences of altered pyruvate transport in various metabolic tissues.

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