A high-throughput screen of real-time ATP levels in individual cells reveals mechanisms of energy failure

PLoS Biol. 2018 Aug 27;16(8):e2004624. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2004624. eCollection 2018 Aug.


Insufficient or dysregulated energy metabolism may underlie diverse inherited and degenerative diseases, cancer, and even aging itself. ATP is the central energy carrier in cells, but critical pathways for regulating ATP levels are not systematically understood. We combined a pooled clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats interference (CRISPRi) library enriched for mitochondrial genes, a fluorescent biosensor, and fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) in a high-throughput genetic screen to assay ATP concentrations in live human cells. We identified genes not known to be involved in energy metabolism. Most mitochondrial ribosomal proteins are essential in maintaining ATP levels under respiratory conditions, and impaired respiration predicts poor growth. We also identified genes for which coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) supplementation rescued ATP deficits caused by knockdown. These included CoQ10 biosynthetic genes associated with human disease and a subset of genes not linked to CoQ10 biosynthesis, indicating that increasing CoQ10 can preserve ATP in specific genetic contexts. This screening paradigm reveals mechanisms of metabolic control and genetic defects responsive to energy-based therapies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / analysis*
  • Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays / methods*
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / genetics
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / genetics
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism
  • Single-Cell Analysis / methods
  • Ubiquinone / analogs & derivatives
  • Ubiquinone / metabolism


  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • Ubiquinone
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • coenzyme Q10