Effect of crista morphology on mitochondrial ATP output: A computational study

Curr Res Physiol. 2021;4:163-176. doi: 10.1016/j.crphys.2021.03.005. Epub 2021 Apr 1.


Folding of the mitochondrial inner membrane (IM) into cristae greatly increases the ATP-generating surface area, S IM, per unit volume but also creates diffusional bottlenecks that could limit reaction rates inside mitochondria. This study explores possible effects of inner membrane folding on mitochondrial ATP output, using a mathematical model for energy metabolism developed by the Jafri group and two- and three-dimensional spatial models for mitochondria, implemented on the Virtual Cell platform. Simulations demonstrate that cristae are micro-compartments functionally distinct from the cytosol. At physiological steady states, standing gradients of ADP form inside cristae that depend on the size and shape of the compartments, and reduce local flux (rate per unit area) of the adenine nucleotide translocase. This causes matrix ADP levels to drop, which in turn reduces the flux of ATP synthase. The adverse effects of membrane folding on reaction fluxes increase with crista length and are greater for lamellar than tubular crista. However, total ATP output per mitochondrion is the product of flux of ATP synthase and S IM which can be two-fold greater for mitochondria with lamellar than tubular cristae, resulting in greater ATP output for the former. The simulations also demonstrate the crucial role played by intracristal kinases (adenylate kinase, creatine kinase) in maintaining the energy advantage of IM folding.

Keywords: ATP synthesis; Computational modeling; Cristae; Energy metabolism; Kinases; Mitochondria.