The functioning and survival of mammalian cells requires an active energy metabolism. Metabolic dysfunction plays an important role in many human diseases, including diabetes, cancer, inherited mitochondrial disorders, and metabolic syndrome. The monosaccharide glucose constitutes a key source of cellular energy. Following its import across the plasma membrane, glucose is converted into pyruvate by the glycolysis pathway. Pyruvate oxidation supplies substrates for the ATP-generating mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) system. To gain cell-biochemical knowledge about the operation and regulation of the cellular energy metabolism in the healthy and diseased state, quantitative knowledge is required about (changes in) metabolite concentrations under (non) steady-state conditions. This information can, for instance, be used to construct more realistic in silico models of cell metabolism, which facilitates understanding the consequences of metabolic dysfunction as well as on- and off-target effects of mitochondrial drugs. Here we review the current state-of-the-art live-cell quantification of two key cellular metabolites, glucose and ATP, using protein-based sensors. The latter apply the principle of FRET (fluorescence resonance energy transfer) and allow measurements in different cell compartments by fluorescence microscopy. We further summarize the properties and applications of the FRET-based sensors, their calibration, pitfalls, and future perspectives.
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