Mammals to membranes: A reductionist story

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Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part - B: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


This is the story of a series of reductionist studies that started with an attempt to explain what underpins the high-level of aerobic metabolism in mammals (i.e. associated with the evolution of endothermy) and almost forty years later had led to investigations into the role of membrane lipids in determining metabolism. Initial studies showed that the increase in aerobic metabolism in mammals was driven by a combination of increases in mitochondrial volume and membrane densities, organ size and changes in the molecular activity of enzymes. The increase in the capacity to produce energy was matched by an increase in energy use, notably driven by increases in H , Na and K fluxes. In the case of increased Na flux, it was found this was matched by increases in Na -dependent metabolism at the tissue level and increases in enzyme activity at a cellular level but not by an increase in the number of sodium pumps. To maintain Na gradient across cell membranes, increased Na flux is not controlled by an increase in sodium pump number but rather by an increase in sodium pump molecular activity (i.e. an increase the substrate turnover rate of each sodium pump) in tissues of endotherms. This increase in molecular activity is coupled to an increase in the level of highly unsaturated polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in membranes, a mechanism similar to that used by ectotherms to ameliorate decreasing activities of metabolic processes in the cold. Determination of how changes in membrane fatty acid composition can change the activities of proteins in membranes will be the next step in this story. + + + + + + +

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