What’s ATP?

Almost all living things produce ATP in their cell's organelles known as mitochondria. It stands for adenosine triphosphate and it is the major 'currency' of energy in the body. It temporarily "stores" energy in its phosphodiester bonds (the bonds between the phosphate groups of the ATP molecule). When the third phosphate bond is created, it immediately is broken and energy is released that can fuel the metabolic chemical reactions required by living organisms, which otherwise would be inefficient.

It may be helpful to think of ATP as a battery that gets charged, and as soon as it is charged, it sets off a spark of energy that can be used to do work in the body.

ATP powers most of the energy-consuming activities of cells, such as:

  • Most anabolic reactions: e.g., synthesis of nucleoside triphosphates for assembly into protein
  • Synthesis of polysaccharides
  • Synthesis of fats
  • Active transport of molecules and ions
  • Nerve impulses
  • Muscle contraction
  • Bioluminescence

In mammals, ATP also functions outside of the cells. Its release:

  • From damaged cells can elicit pain
  • From the carotid body signals a shortage of oxygen in the blood
  • From taste receptor cells triggers action potentials in the sensory nerves leading back to the brain from the stretched wall of the urinary bladder signals when the bladder needs emptying

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