The influence of ConA on the energy metabolism of quiescent rat thymocytes was investigated by measuring the effects of inhibitors of protein synthesis, proteolysis, RNA/DNA synthesis, Na+K+-ATPase, Ca2+-ATPase and mitochondrial ATP synthesis on respiration. Only about 50% of the coupled oxygen consumption of quiescent thymocytes could be assigned to specific processes using two different media. Under these conditions the oxygen is mainly used to drive mitochondrial proton leak and to provide ATP for protein synthesis and cation transport, whereas oxygen consumption to provide ATP for RNA/DNA synthesis and ATP-dependent proteolysis was not measurable. The mitogen ConA produced a persistent increase in oxygen consumption by about 30% within seconds. After stimulation more than 80% of respiration could be assigned to specific processes. The major oxygen consuming processes of ConA-stimulated thymocytes are mitochondrial proton leak, protein synthesis and Na+K+-ATPase with about 20% each of total oxygen consumption, while Ca2+-ATPase and RNA/DNA synthesis contribute about 10% each. Quiescent thymocytes resemble resting hepatocytes in that most of the oxygen consumption remains unexplained. In contrast, the pattern of energy metabolism in stimulated thymocytes is similar to that described for Ehrlich Ascites tumour cells and splenocytes, which may also be in an activated state. Most of the oxygen consumption is accounted for, so the unexplained process(es) in unstimulated cells shut(s) off on stimulation.

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