Tech UPTechnologyOur mitochondria can function at 50ºC

Our mitochondria can function at 50ºC

Our body temperature is usually between 36.5 and 37.5 ºC, and therefore it is often assumed that most physiological processes occur at these temperatures. However, a new study published in the journal PLOS Biology has revealed that mitochondria, the organelles that supply most of the energy necessary for normal cellular processes, operate at almost 50ºC. In fact, they seem to do it optimally that way.

Inside the mitochondria – hundreds of them can be found in each cell – numerous chemical reactions take place. Approximately 40% of the energy they release contributes to the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate or ATP, a key compound for the functioning of the body that is involved in many different processes, from muscle contraction to brain activity. Almost the remaining 60% is dissipated as heat.

Well, in the trial, an international team of researchers coordinated by the molecular biologist Pierre Rustin, from the French National Institute of Health and Sanitary Research, points out that these micro-energy plants function as if they were a kind of thermostatic radiators that were located in a poorly insulated room, so that they do so at a temperature significantly higher than that of their surroundings.

Molecular thermometer

To determine that the temperature inside the mitochondria remains stable at almost 50ºC, Rustin and his collaborators used a chemical probe that produces fluorescence and is particularly sensitive to temperature; scientists often refer to it as a molecular thermometer. Thus, they observed that this phenomenon remains as long as the organelles function normally, but disappears if they are deactivated , and that many of their enzymes – proteins that catalyze chemical reactions – have evolved to maintain their activity under these conditions, which, in turn, opinion, confirms the information provided by the aforementioned probe.

In a statement, these experts point out that, based on their data, it will be necessary to re-evaluate what we think we know about the functioning of mitochondria and their role in cells. “Much of our knowledge about them and their enzymes, the permeability of their membranes or the effect of toxins or drugs take into account the aforementioned body temperature, about 37.5 ºC, but, apparently, this is not useful for these organelles ”, they indicate.

In fact, the results are so shocking that other researchers, such as the British biochemist Nick Lane, who in the same issue of the journal PLOS Biology includes an article on this subject, point out that although the work of their colleagues is promising, they will be more precise. analysis to verify it.

Image: Four human cells, each with its nucleus (N) and its numerous mitochondria. These work like thermostatic radiators (detail). Malgorzata Rak / Terrence G. Frey

Reference: ‘Mitochondria are physiologically maintained at close to 50 ° C’. Chrétien D., Bénit P., Ha HH., Keipert S., El-Khoury R., Chang YT., Et al. PLOS Biology 16.

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