Lactate shuttles in nature

Biochem Soc Trans. 2002 Apr;30(2):258-64. doi: 10.1042/bst0300258.


Once thought to be the consequence of oxygen lack in contracting skeletal muscle, the glycolytic product lactate is formed and utilized continuously under fully aerobic conditions. "Cell-cell" and "intracellular lactate shuttle" concepts describe the roles of lactate in the delivery of oxidative and gluconeogenic substrates, as well as in cell signalling. Examples of cell-cell shuttles include lactate exchanges between white-glycolytic and red-oxidative fibres within a working muscle bed, between working skeletal muscle and heart, and between tissues of net lactate release and gluconeogenesis. Lactate exchange between astrocytes and neurons that is linked to glutamatergic signalling in the brain is an example of a lactate shuttle supporting cell-cell signalling. Lactate uptake by mitochondria and pyruvate-lactate exchange in peroxisomes are examples of intracellular lactate shuttles. Lactate exchange between sites of production and removal is facilitated by monocarboxylate transport proteins, of which there are several isoforms, and, probably, also by scaffolding proteins. The mitochondrial lactate-pyruvate transporter appears to work in conjunction with mitochondrial lactate dehydrogenase, which permits lactate to be oxidized within actively respiring cells. Hence mitochondria function to establish the concentration and proton gradients necessary for cells with high mitochondrial densities (e.g. cardiocytes) to take up and oxidize lactate. Arteriovenous difference measurements on working cardiac and skeletal muscle beds as well as NMR spectral analyses of these tissues show that lactate is formed and oxidized within the cells of formation in vivo. Glycolysis and lactate oxidation within cells permits high flux rates and the maintenance of redox balance in the cytosol and mitochondria. Other examples of intracellular lactate shuttles include lactate uptake and oxidation in sperm mitochondria and the facilitation of beta-oxidation in peroxisomes by pyruvate-lactate exchange. An ancient origin to the utility of lactate shuttling is implied by the observation that mitochondria of Saccharomyces cerevisiae contain flavocytochrome b(2), a lactate-cytochrome c oxidoreductase that couples lactate dehydrogenation to the reduction of cytochrome c. The presence of cell-cell and intracellular lactate shuttles gives rise to the notion that glycolytic and oxidative pathways can be viewed as linked, as opposed to alternative, processes, because lactate, the product of one pathway, is the substrate for the other.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport, Active
  • Exercise / physiology
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Lactic Acid / blood
  • Lactic Acid / history
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*


  • Lactic Acid