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Annu Rev Nutr. 2003;23:379-402. Epub 2003 Apr 16.

In vivo measurement of fluxes through metabolic pathways: the missing link in functional genomics and pharmaceutical research.

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  • 1Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, California 94720-3104, USA.


In the postgenomic era of biology, much attention has been given to functional genomics, or the relation between genes and higher levels of organization in the cell. The latter are typically represented as mRNA, protein, or organic metabolite complements. The theme of this review is that the operational unit of function in complex biological systems is more properly seen as the fully assembled metabolic pathway in the whole organism. Due to the connectivity, interactions, and complexity of metabolic pathways, the measurement of components is an inadequate method for predicting phenotype. Measurement of the outputs of pathways (molecular fluxes) involves different tools than static measures of components, however. Here, we review recently developed stable isotope-mass spectrometric tools for measuring fluxes through metabolic pathways in vivo, focusing on the response to dietary macronutrients (carbohydrates and fats). Methods discussed include measurement of lipid dynamics, DNA replication, hepatic assembly of lipoproteins, and long-lived protein synthesis. Measuring fluxes through multiple pathways concurrently allows regulatory themes to emerge. Use of 2H2O-labeling is emerging as a particularly powerful approach for multiple concurrent biosynthetic flux measurements. Several examples demonstrate that pathway flux results are often unexpected and not predicted by classic biochemistry or the expression of genes and proteins.

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