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A thermodynamic function of glycogen in brain and muscle.


Brain and muscle glycogen are generally thought to function as local glucose reserves, for use during transient mismatches between glucose supply and demand. However, quantitative measures show that glucose supply is likely never rate-limiting for energy metabolism in either brain or muscle under physiological conditions. These tissues nevertheless do utilize glycogen during increased energy demand, despite the availability of free glucose, and despite the ATP cost of cycling glucose through glycogen polymer. This seemingly wasteful process can be explained by considering the effect of glycogenolysis on the amount of energy obtained from ATP (ΔG'ATP). The amount of energy obtained from ATP is reduced by elevations in inorganic phosphate (Pi). Glycogen utilization sequesters Pi in the glycogen phosphorylase reaction and in downstream phosphorylated glycolytic intermediates, thereby buffering Pi elevations and maximizing energy yield at sites of rapid ATP consumption. This thermodynamic effect of glycogen may be particularly important in the narrow, spatially constrained astrocyte processes that ensheath neuronal synapses and in cells such as astrocytes and myocytes that release Pi from phosphocreatine during energy demand. The thermodynamic effect may also explain glycolytic super-compensation in brain when glycogen is not available, and aspects of exercise physiology in muscle glycogen phosphorylase deficiency (McArdle disease).

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