ATP-consuming futile cycles as energy dissipating mechanisms to counteract obesity

Alexandra J. Brownstein, Michaela Veliova, Rebeca Acin-Perez, Marc Liesa, Orian S. Shirihai

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Obesity results from an imbalance in energy homeostasis, whereby excessive energy intake exceeds caloric expenditure. Energy can be dissipated out of an organism by producing heat (thermogenesis), explaining the long-standing interest in exploiting thermogenic processes to counteract obesity. Mitochondrial uncoupling is a process that expends energy by oxidizing nutrients to produce heat, instead of ATP synthesis. Energy can also be dissipated through mechanisms that do not involve mitochondrial uncoupling. Such mechanisms include futile cycles described as metabolic reactions that consume ATP to produce a product from a substrate but then converting the product back into the original substrate, releasing the energy as heat. Energy dissipation driven by cellular ATP demand can be regulated by adjusting the speed and number of futile cycles. Energy consuming futile cycles that are reviewed here are lipolysis/fatty acid re-esterification cycle, creatine/phosphocreatine cycle, and the SERCA-mediated calcium import and export cycle. Their reliance on ATP emphasizes that mitochondrial oxidative function coupled to ATP synthesis, and not just uncoupling, can play a role in thermogenic energy dissipation. Here, we review ATP consuming futile cycles, the evidence for their function in humans, and their potential employment as a strategy to dissipate energy and counteract obesity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-131
Number of pages11
JournalReviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Brown adipose tissue
  • Energy expenditure
  • Futile cycle
  • Malate aspartate shuttle
  • Metabolism
  • Thermogenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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