Calorespirometry: A Powerful, Noninvasive Approach to Investigate Cellular Energy Metabolism

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Many cell lines used in basic biological and biomedical research maintain energy homeostasis through a combination of both aerobic and anaerobic respiration. However, the extent to which both pathways contribute to the landscape of cellular energy production is consistently overlooked. Transformed cells cultured in saturating levels of glucose often show a decreased dependency on oxidative phosphorylation for ATP production, which is compensated by an increase in substrate-level phosphorylation. This shift in metabolic poise allows cells to proliferate despite the presence of mitochondrial toxins. In neglecting the altered metabolic poise of transformed cells, results from a pharmaceutical screening may be misinterpreted since the potentially mitotoxic effects may not be detected using model cell lines cultured in the presence of high glucose concentrations. This protocol describes the pairing of two powerful techniques, respirometry and calorimetry, which allows for the quantitative and noninvasive assessment of both aerobic and anaerobic contributions to cellular ATP production. Both aerobic and anaerobic respirations generate heat, which can be monitored via calorimetry. Meanwhile, measuring the rate of oxygen consumption can assess the extent of aerobic respiration. When both heat dissipation and oxygen consumption are measured simultaneously, the calorespirometric ratio can be determined. The experimentally obtained value can then be compared to the theoretical oxycaloric equivalent and the extent of the anaerobic respiration can be judged. Thus, calorespirometry provides a unique method to analyze a wide range of biological questions, including drug development, microbial growth, and fundamental bioenergetics under both normoxic and hypoxic conditions.