Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP): Physiology, Uses, and Roles

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- Updated by Jody Mullis
Medically reviewed by Dr Sidra Samad

Adenosine Triphosphate


The molecule of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) was originally discovered in 1929 by Cyrus H. Fiske and Yellapragada Subbarow, who were both biochemists. The molecule of ATP was further enumerated by Koscak Maruyama (1930-2003), a professor from Chiba University. 

What are the Phases of ATP Production?

The phases of ATP production happen when glucose is converted into ATP in three successive processes. According to Massimo Bonora from the University of Ferrara, glucose is catabolized during glycolysis, then is moved through the tricarboxylic acid cycle and oxidative phosphorylation, which generates ATP. Glycolysis takes the glucose and converts it into two molecules of pyruvate. Then, in the tricarboxylic acid cycle, the pyruvate is oxidized to turn into acetyl-CoA and CO2. Later in the process, NADH and FADH2 are also produced. During oxidative phosphorylation, according to Courtney M. Townsend JR., MD, NADH and FADH2 help with the final steps to generate ATP by moving electrons and consuming oxygen.

PFK-1 is an important part of the phases of ATP production. PFK-1 converts fructose 6-phosphate and ATP into ADP and fructose 1 6-bisphosphate. ATP is also considered to have negative energy, according to Jasmine Rana, which means a negative Gibbs-free energy value. When ATP has a negative Gibbs-free energy value, that means it has high energy potential.

What are the Main Roles and Benefits of ATP?

ATP has a role as an energy storage and releasor, powering multiple functions within the cell and body. ATP is the reason muscles have the power to contract, and also helps with DNA and RNA synthesis, along with intracellular signaling and neurotransmission.

What is the Structure of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP)?

The structure of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is made up of a nitrogenous base, which is adenine, a sugar ribose, and three phosphate groups. The structure of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) has the chemical formula of C10H16N5O13P3 and the molar mass of 507.18 g/mol. To learn what is ATP, it’s important to understand that ATP, as the ‘energy currency’ of the cell, has energy stored within its phosphate groups. When this bond is broken and the energy in these phosphate groups is released, it can power all the various energy-dependent activities within the cell, such as DNA and RNA synthesis.

How Does the Hydrolysis of ATP Work?

The hydrolysis of ATP works by catabolic reaction processes. ATP hydrolysis happens when chemical energy in phosphoanhydride bonds is released. This chemical energy can be released by exertion, such as in the muscles in the form of mechanical energy. When phosphoanhydride bonds are released, found in adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the resulting product is adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and phosphate. This reaction process is important as ATP hydrolysis answers what is the most important energy-transferring compound in cells. The most important energy-transferring compound is ATP, as it can be directly converted into cellular energy.

What are the Phosphodiester Bonds in ATP?

Phosphodiester bonds in ATP is a covalent bond between sugar and phosphates that are important for molecule formation and ATP structure. ATP acts like an energy-storage molecule due to the phosphate groups that are linked through phosphodiester bonds.

What is Adenosine diphosphate (ADP)?

Adenosine diphosphate (ADP) is one of the important roles of ATP, and supports the flow of energy in cellular life forms. ADP is made up of sugar, adenine, and two phosphate groups that are bound to ribose. During the catabolic process, ADP and phosphate are used as precursors to create ATP.

What is the Gibbs-free Energy of ADP?

Gibbs-free Energy is a thermodynamic parameter that shows energy changes in a chemical reaction. Gibbs-free Energy (delta G value) has a negative value in chemical changes regarding ATP and ADP. This negative value is due to ATP combining with water in a chemical reaction called hydrolysis, creating ADP and free phosphate groups, which create lots of free energy.

What is Adenosine monophosphate (AMP)?

Adenosine monophosphate (AMP) regulates metabolic activity. Adenosine monophosphate (AMP) is directly affected by ATP. The energy currency used by cells is ATP, which is inhibited or triggered by AMP.

How Does the Body Produce ATP?

The body produces ATP through cellular respiration, ketosis, beta-oxidation, lipid, protein catabolism, and anaerobic conditions. ATP production happens in every cell in every organ of the body but mainly is produced in the brain. ATP production is located in the mitochondria of every cell, which can better help us to understand what is ATP science. ATP storage in the cells rebounds after use in about 3 minutes, while a full system recovery takes about 10 minutes. ATP is mainly used through muscle contractions, such as exercise. ATP is also used for intracellular signaling and DNA synthesis.

How Does PFK-1 Help ATP Production?

Phosphofructokinase-1 (PFK-1) helps with ATP production by catalyzing part of the glycolysis process. Phosphofructokinase-1 (PFK-1) is a regulator of glycolysis and controls the rate at which ATP is converted into ADP. Glycolysis is the process in which enzymes break down glucose and convert them into energy. The ATP meaning, in this process, is that Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is dependent on PFK-1 as it catalyzes phosphorylation to turn fructose-6-phosphate into ADP, fructose 1, and 6-bisphosphate.

What are the Functions of ATP in the Body?

The functions of ATP in the body are included below.

  1. Intracellular signaling - ATP functions as a key substrate for signaling within cells. This helps cells respond to their environment.
  2. DNA/RNA Synthesis - ATP is one of the key components in DNA and RNA synthesis.
  3. Purinergic Signaling - ATP, a purine nucleotide, is a necessary component for extracellular paracrine signaling.
  4. Muscle Contraction - ATP is necessary for muscle movement, as the hydrolysis of ATP powers the muscles of the body to move.
  5. Neurotransmission - ATP is necessary for neurotransmission as it is a high-energy process, accounting for about 25% of ATP used in the body.
  6. Pain Control - ATP helps with pain control when it acts on A1 adenosine receptors, reducing pain.

Understanding intracellular signaling, among other functions of ATP, can help shed light on what is ATP's importance in the cell.

1. Intracellular Signaling

Intracellular signaling is one of the uses of ATP, as ATP is a substrate for kinases. Intracellular signaling is dependent on both ATP and kinase. Kinase is a type of enzyme that adds phosphates to other molecules, which starts multiple other signaling functions that are important for a healthy cell. ATP also acts as a trigger for intracellular signal messengers to be released. The types of messengers that ATP can trigger are hormones, lipid mediators, and neurotransmitters.

2. DNA/RNA Synthesis

DNA and RNA synthesis is dependent on ATP in order to be synthesized. DNA and RNA synthesis uses ATP as one of four monomers for RNA synthesis and takes away an oxygen atom from sugar to make deoxyribonucleotide (dATP) for DNA synthesis. These processes readily use up ATP, which is why ATP is continually being produced in the cell.

3. Purinergic Signaling

Purinergic signaling is a type of extra-cellular signaling that is controlled by ATP and other purine nucleotides. Purinergic signaling starts by having purinergic receptors activated by the release of ATP. ATP is called the energy currency of the cell because this signaling is dependent on ATP’s presence in order to be instigated. Purinergic signaling that’s triggered by ATP is necessary for controlling autonomic functions, pain, and vessel tone. 

4. Muscle Contraction

Muscle contraction is dependent on ATP in the body as an energy source to power muscle movement. Muscle contraction uses ATP to generate power through pressure against actin filaments, moving calcium ions, and moving sodium and potassium ions. ATP hydrolysis is one of the main sources of energy that push these processes and cause muscle contraction.

5. Neurotransmission

Neurotransmission is an energy-demanding process that heavily depends on ATP. Neurotransmission requires high amounts of ion concentrations, which ATP helps to facilitate. ATP is able to make ion gradients that move neurotransmitters into vesicles. ATP also helps prime vesicles for release. This helps us understand why is ATP an important molecule in metabolism. After each neurotransmission, ATP is required to restore the ion concentration so another signal can be generated.

6. Pain Control

ATP is directly linked to pain control, having an effect to reduce perioperative pain. ATP, when received intravenously, has an effect on the A1 adenosine receptor that’s linked to pain control. This effect, after a signal cascade in the cell, ultimately reduces inflammation and reduces pain associated with inflammation. Activating the A1 adenosine receptor with ATP offers effective pain relief as it has a slow onset and lasts a long time.

What is the Main Requirement of ATP Production?

The main requirement of ATP production is oxygen. However, there are many ways ATP can be produced, such as through beta-oxidation, ketosis, and anaerobic respiration. According to Jacob Dunn from High Point University, ATP production can happen in numerous ways depending on the conditions of the cell. After ATP is produced, it can help power muscle contraction, neurotransmissions, and protein synthesis, which can help us better understand what is ATP used for in cells.

What is Cellular Respiration for ATP?

Cellular respiration happens within the cell where catabolized glucose creates electron carriers that will later be oxidized, with the final product being ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Cellular respiration has several steps, the first step being glycolysis where one molecule of glucose is broken down, producing ATP with the help of PFK1 and kinase.

What is Beta-Oxidation for ATP?

Beta-Oxidation is another method of creating ATP from fatty acid chains. Beta-Oxidation happens in cycles, where each cycle of the oxidation process reduces the fatty acid chain by two carbon lengths. This creates acetyl-CoA, which in turn is oxidized further to create NADH and FADH2. From the electron transport chain, ATP is produced. This oxidation cycle helps us describe the ATP molecule and its function within a cell.

What Does Ketosis Mean for ATP Production?

Ketosis involves ketone bodies being catabolized for ATP production, resulting in newly produced ATP. Ketosis is the name of the reaction caused by ketone bodies located in the liver. During catabolism, ketone bodies create 22 ATP molecules along with two GTP molecules for every acetoacetate molecule that is oxidized.

What does Anaerobic Respiration mean for ATP Production?

Anaerobic Respiration is used to create ATP when there is no oxygen in the cell. Anaerobic Respiration involves a buildup of NADH which is oxidized with pyruvate that is reduced to lactate. This oxidized NADH creates two molecules of ATP from every molecule of glucose. ATP contains adenine, ribose, and three phosphate groups. The energy that can be released from the phosphate groups is why ATP production is so important for the body.

What is the Latest Research on ATP?

The latest research on ATP is included below.

Who is Cyrus H. Fiske?

Cyrus H. Fiske (1890-1978), was a biochemist professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and is credited with discovering phosphocreatine and ATP with Subbarow. Cyrus H. Fiske was also an assistant bio-chemist professor at the Western Reserve Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio. Cyrus H. Fiske, along with Subbarow, were able to discover and isolate ATP, and describe how it worked.

Who is Yellapragda Subbarow?

Yellapragda Subbarow (1895-1948) was an Indian biochemist at Lederle Laboratories who discovered that ATP is used as an energy source within the cell. Yellapragda Subbarow worked with Fiske on many research projects, however, due to envy, Fiske did not let many of Subbarow’s insights come to light until years later.

Where is ATP found in Medicine?

Due to ATP structure and function, ATP is typically found as medicine for combating weight loss in ill people. ATP as a medicine is also found being administered to cancer patients, and seems to improve overall quality of life.

What are the Causes of ATP Production Inefficiency?

One of the main causes of ATP production inefficiency is age. According to Florian Schütt from the Department of Ophthalmology, RPE cells were inhibited regarding their ATP production, which resulted in oxidative stress, DNA damage, and overall cellular dysfunction, showing us why do we need ATP. 

Is Using ATP Supplements Helpful for ATP Production or Deficit?

ATP supplements are helpful for ATP production. The energy currency cells need is called ATP, and when ATP supplements are administered to patients, according to Masakazu Hayashida from the University of Tokyo, ATP effectively lowers pain and provides relief for patients with chronic neuropathic pain.

How does Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide Help with ATP Production?

In ATP biology, Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD) helps with ATP production by accepting hydride in its equivalent forms. Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide, according to Bernard Cuenoud from Nestlé Health Science, takes on hydride during glycolysis and the citric acid cycle, which then forms NADH, and later results in ATP.

What is the main requirement of ATP Production?

The main requirement of ATP production are protons, which provide energy. ATP production requires three protons for ATP synthase when it comes to rearranging ATP, and one proton for transporting ATP, ADP and Pi. Understanding what are the components of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is simple to learn how ATP is used as energy. The components of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) are adenine, ribose, and three phosphate groups, where the energy stored in the bonds of the phosphate groups gives ATP its power.