The transport of pyruvate into mitochondria requires a specific carrier, the mitochondrial pyruvate carrier (MPC). The MPC represents a central node of carbon metabolism, and its activity is likely to play a key role in bioenergetics. Until now, investigation of the MPC activity has been limited. However, the recent molecular identification of the components of the carrier has allowed us to engineer a genetically encoded biosensor and to monitor the activity of the MPC in real time in a cell population or in a single cell. We report that the MPC activity is low in cancer cells, which mainly rely on glycolysis to generate ATP, a characteristic known as the Warburg effect. We show that this low activity can be reversed by increasing the concentration of cytosolic pyruvate, thus increasing oxidative phosphorylation. This biosensor represents a unique tool to investigate carbon metabolism and bioenergetics in various cell types.
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