Malfunctioning Molecular Motor May Result In Osteoporosis

Bone-Healthy Living / Research / January 3, 2012

Senior male jumping into beach water

The anatomical structure and the working of a ‘molecular motor’ has now been identified whose malfunctioning is believed to be responsible for the onset of many critical diseases and health conditions such as osteoporosis and even cancer.

The motor is an energy-converting protein known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP) synthase. Every cell in our body contains this cell which is used to produce energy for the organs for our body to function. The ATP synthase protein interacts with the fatty acids that surround it. The fatty acids form membranes around each cell giving the cell mechanical protection from physical shock. It also provides structural support for the cell as well as acts as a semi-permeable barrier to other surrounding cells. The function of the fatty acids is to act like a lubricant for the functioning of this molecular motor. (1)

The research which had an chemists from all over the world and was lead by chemists from Oxford University had it’s report published in the journal Science. (2)

According to the author of the paper, Professor Carol Robinson (Department of Chemistry – Oxford University) , “ATP synthase is found in every cell in our bodies and generates the energy necessary to keep our organs working. Our team were able to effectively ‘weigh’ this molecular motor and calculate the exact weight of the fatty acids — that act rather like a ‘lubricant’ for the motor — that are attached to it.” (3)

The molecular motor of ATP synthase along with it’s components were studied by repeatedly stimulating them with high pH as well as different levels of ATP and Adenosine diphosphate (ADP). This made it possible for the scientists to minutely and accurately observe how the different components of the molecular motor responded to each change in detail.

The ATP synthase is essentially an enzyme. Enzymes are proteins that catalyse chemical reactions in biological processes.  ATP synthase is the most commonly used ‘energy currency’ of cells in most organisms. ATP synthase is produced by the combination of Adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and inorganic phosphate (P). The reaction results in the release of energy ATP synthase.

The components of the molecular motor ATP synthase essentially comprise of three parts: the part within the membrane called the rotor; the central stalk or axle and the above the membrane, inside the matrix of the mitochondria comprising of ATP. There is also a side or flanking axle that stops the movement of the rotor – known as the stator. (4)

The research has added significance because it throws light for future research for a wide range of diseases in which defects or malfunctioning of the energy-converting motor is an implicating factor.

As per Professor Robinson, “ Overall this research has not only contributed to our understanding of this cellular motor but also highlights opportunities to explore the effects of inhibitors that could one day help in the treatment of many conditions.” (3)


  1. Workings of Molecular Motor Revealed; Science Daily; November, 2011;
  2. Mass Spectrometry of Intact V-Type ATPases Reveals Bound Lipids and the Effects of Nucleotide Binding; Science AAAS;
    November, 2011;
  3. Workings of molecular motor revealed; University of Oxford – Media; November, 2011;
  4. ATP Synthase; California Lutheran University – BioDev; November, 2011;

Author: Monica Straith, BS

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