Metabolic pathway

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In biochemistry, a metabolic pathway is a linked series of chemical reactions occurring within a cell. The reactants, products, and intermediates of an enzymatic reaction are known as metabolites, which are modified by a sequence of chemical reactions catalyzed by enzymes. [1] :26 In most cases of a metabolic pathway, the product of one enzyme acts as the substrate for the next. However, side products are considered waste and removed from the cell. [2] These enzymes often require dietary minerals, vitamins, and other cofactors to function.[ citation needed ]


Different metabolic pathways function based on the position within a eukaryotic cell and the significance of the pathway in the given compartment of the cell. [3] For instance, the, electron transport chain, and oxidative phosphorylation all take place in the mitochondrial membrane. [4] :73,74 & 109 In contrast, glycolysis, pentose phosphate pathway, and fatty acid biosynthesis all occur in the cytosol of a cell. [5] :441–442

There are two types of metabolic pathways that are characterized by their ability to either synthesize molecules with the utilization of energy (anabolic pathway), or break down complex molecules and release energy in the process (catabolic pathway). [6]

The two pathways complement each other in that the energy released from one is used up by the other. The degradative process of a catabolic pathway provides the energy required to conduct the biosynthesis of an anabolic pathway. [6] In addition to the two distinct metabolic pathways is the amphibolic pathway, which can be either catabolic or anabolic based on the need for or the availability of energy. [7]

Pathways are required for the maintenance of homeostasis within an organism and the flux of metabolites through a pathway is regulated depending on the needs of the cell and the availability of the substrate. The end product of a pathway may be used immediately, initiate another metabolic pathway or be stored for later use. The metabolism of a cell consists of an elaborate network of interconnected pathways that enable the synthesis and breakdown of molecules (anabolism and catabolism).


Net reactions of common metabolic pathways Net reactions for glycolysis of glucose, oxidative decarboxylation of pyruvate, and Krebs cycle..png
Net reactions of common metabolic pathways

Each metabolic pathway consists of a series of biochemical reactions that are connected by their intermediates: the products of one reaction are the substrates for subsequent reactions, and so on. Metabolic pathways are often considered to flow in one direction. Although all chemical reactions are technically reversible, conditions in the cell are often such that it is thermodynamically more favorable for flux to proceed in one direction of a reaction. [8] For example, one pathway may be responsible for the synthesis of a particular amino acid, but the breakdown of that amino acid may occur via a separate and distinct pathway. One example of an exception to this "rule" is the metabolism of glucose. Glycolysis results in the breakdown of glucose, but several reactions in the glycolysis pathway are reversible and participate in the re-synthesis of glucose (gluconeogenesis).

  1. As glucose enters a cell, it is immediately phosphorylated by ATP to glucose 6-phosphate in the irreversible first step.
  2. In times of excess lipid or protein energy sources, certain reactions in the glycolysis pathway may run in reverse to produce glucose 6-phosphate, which is then used for storage as glycogen or starch.

Major metabolic pathways

Catabolic pathway (catabolism)

A catabolic pathway is a series of reactions that bring about a net release of energy in the form of a high energy phosphate bond formed with the energy carriers adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and guanosine diphosphate (GDP) to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and guanosine triphosphate (GTP), respectively. [4] :91–93 The net reaction is, therefore, thermodynamically favorable, for it results in a lower free energy for the final products. [9] :578–579 A catabolic pathway is an exergonic system that produces chemical energy in the form of ATP, GTP, NADH, NADPH, FADH2, etc. from energy containing sources such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The end products are often carbon dioxide, water, and ammonia. Coupled with an endergonic reaction of anabolism, the cell can synthesize new macromolecules using the original precursors of the anabolic pathway. [10] An example of a coupled reaction is the phosphorylation of fructose-6-phosphate to form the intermediate fructose-1,6-bisphosphate by the enzyme phosphofructokinase accompanied by the hydrolysis of ATP in the pathway of glycolysis. The resulting chemical reaction within the metabolic pathway is highly thermodynamically favorable and, as a result, irreversible in the cell.

Cellular respiration

A core set of energy-producing catabolic pathways occur within all living organisms in some form. These pathways transfer the energy released by breakdown of nutrients into ATP and other small molecules used for energy (e.g. GTP, NADPH, FADH2). All cells can perform anaerobic respiration by glycolysis. Additionally, most organisms can perform more efficient aerobic respiration through the citric acid cycle and oxidative phosphorylation. Additionally plants, algae and cyanobacteria are able to use sunlight to anabolically synthesize compounds from non-living matter by photosynthesis.

Gluconeogenesis Mechanism Gluconeogenese Schema 2.png
Gluconeogenesis Mechanism

Anabolic pathway (anabolism)

In contrast to catabolic pathways, anabolic pathways require an energy input to construct macromolecules such as polypeptides, nucleic acids, proteins, polysaccharides, and lipids. The isolated reaction of anabolism is unfavorable in a cell due to a positive Gibbs Free Energy (+ΔG). Thus, an input of chemical energy through a coupling with an exergonic reaction is necessary. [1] :25–27 The coupled reaction of the catabolic pathway affects the thermodynamics of the reaction by lowering the overall activation energy of an anabolic pathway and allowing the reaction to take place. [1] :25 Otherwise, an endergonic reaction is non-spontaneous.

An anabolic pathway is a biosynthetic pathway, meaning that it combines smaller molecules to form larger and more complex ones. [9] :570 An example is the reversed pathway of glycolysis, otherwise known as gluconeogenesis, which occurs in the liver and sometimes in the kidney to maintain proper glucose concentration in the blood and supply the brain and muscle tissues with adequate amount of glucose. Although gluconeogenesis is similar to the reverse pathway of glycolysis, it contains four distinct enzymes(pyruvate carboxylase, phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase, fructose 1,6-bisphosphatase, glucose 6-phosphatase) from glycolysis that allow the pathway to occur spontaneously. [11]

Amphibolic pathway

Amphibolic Properties of the Citric Acid Cycle Amphibolic Properties of the Citric Acid Cycle.gif
Amphibolic Properties of the Citric Acid Cycle

An amphibolic pathway is one that can be either catabolic or anabolic based on the availability of or the need for energy. [9] :570 The currency of energy in a biological cell is adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which stores its energy in the phosphoanhydride bonds. The energy is utilized to conduct biosynthesis, facilitate movement, and regulate active transport inside of the cell. [9] :571 Examples of amphibolic pathways are the citric acid cycle and the glyoxylate cycle. These sets of chemical reactions contain both energy producing and utilizing pathways. [5] :572 To the right is an illustration of the amphibolic properties of the TCA cycle.

The glyoxylate shunt pathway is an alternative to the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, for it redirects the pathway of TCA to prevent full oxidation of carbon compounds, and to preserve high energy carbon sources as future energy sources. This pathway occurs only in plants and bacteria and transpires in the absence of glucose molecules. [12]


The flux of the entire pathway is regulated by the rate-determining steps. [1] :577–578 These are the slowest steps in a network of reactions. The rate-limiting step occurs near the beginning of the pathway and is regulated by feedback inhibition, which ultimately controls the overall rate of the pathway. [13] The metabolic pathway in the cell is regulated by covalent or non-covalent modifications. A covalent modification involves an addition or removal of a chemical bond, whereas a non-covalent modification (also known as allosteric regulation) is the binding of the regulator to the enzyme via hydrogen bonds, electrostatic interactions, and Van Der Waals forces. [14]

The rate of turnover in a metabolic pathway, also known as the metabolic flux, is regulated based on the stoichiometric reaction model, the utilization rate of metabolites, and the translocation pace of molecules across the lipid bilayer. [15] The regulation methods are based on experiments involving 13C-labeling, which is then analyzed by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) or gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS)-derived mass compositions. The aforementioned techniques synthesize a statistical interpretation of mass distribution in proteinogenic amino acids to the catalytic activities of enzymes in a cell. [15] :178

Clinical applications in targeting metabolic pathways

Targeting Oxidative Phosphorylation

Metabolic pathways can be targeted for clinically therapeutic uses. Within the mitochondrial metabolic network, for instance, there are various pathways that can be targeted by compounds to prevent cancer cell proliferation. [16] One such pathway is oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) within the electron transport chain (ETC). Various inhibitors can downregulate the electrochemical reactions that take place at Complex I, II, III, and IV, thereby preventing the formation of an electrochemical gradient and downregulating the movement of electrons through the ETC. The substrate-level phosphorylation that occurs at ATP synthase can also be directly inhibited, preventing the formation of ATP that is necessary to supply energy for cancer cell proliferation. [17] Some of these inhibitors, such as lonidamine and atovaquone, [16] which inhibit Complex II and Complex III, respectively, are currently undergoing clinical trials for FDA-approval. Other non-FDA-approved inhibitors have still shown experimental success in vitro.

Targeting Heme

Heme, an important prosthetic group present in Complexes I, II, and IV can also be targeted, since heme biosynthesis and uptake have been correlated with increased cancer progression. [18] Various molecules can inhibit heme via different mechanisms. For instance, succinylacetone has been shown to decrease heme concentrations by inhibiting δ-aminolevulinic acid in murine erythroleukemia cells. [19] The primary structure of heme-sequestering peptides, such as HSP1 and HSP2, can be modified to downregulate heme concentrations and reduce proliferation of non-small lung cancer cells. [20]

Targeting the Tricarboxylic acid cycle and Glutaminolysis

The tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA) and glutaminolysis can also be targeted for cancer treatment, since they are essential for the survival and proliferation of cancer cells. Ivosidenib and Enasidenib, two FDA-approved cancer treatments, can arrest the TCA cycle of cancer cells by inhibiting isocitrate dehydrogenase-1 (IDH1) and isocitrate dehydrogenase-2 (IDH2), respectively. [16] Ivosidenib is specific to acute myeloma leukemia (AML) and cholangiocarcinoma, whereas Enasidenib is specific to just acute myeloma leukemia (AML).

In a clinical trial consisting of 185 adult patients with cholangiocarcinoma and an IDH-1 mutation, there was a statistically significant improvement (p<0.0001; HR: 0.37) in patients randomized to Ivosidenib. Still, some of the adverse side effects in these patients included fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, decreased appetite, ascites, and anemia. [21] In a clinical trial consisting of 199 adult patients with AML and an IDH2 mutation, 23% of patients experienced complete response (CR) or complete response with partial hematologic recovery (CRh) lasting a median of 8.2 months while on Enasidenib. Of the 157 patients who required transfusion at the beginning of the trial, 34% no longer required transfusions during the 56-day time period on Enasidenib. Of the 42% of patients who did not require transfusions at the beginning of the trial, 76% still did not require a transfusion by the end of the trial. Side effects of Enasidenib included nausea, diarrhea, elevated bilirubin and most notably, differentiation syndrome. [22]

Glutaminase (GLS), the enzyme responsible for converting glutamine to glutamate via hydrolytic deamidation during the first reaction of glutaminolysis, can also be targeted. In recent years, many small molecules, such as azaserine, acivicin, and CB-839 have been shown to inhibit glutaminase, thus reducing cancer cell viability and inducing apoptosis in cancer cells. [23] Due to its effective antitumor ability in several cancer types such as ovarian, breast and lung cancers, CB-839 is the only GLS inhibitor currently undergoing clinical studies for FDA-approval.

Genetic engineering of metabolic pathways

Many metabolic pathways are of commercial interest. For instance, the production of many antibiotics or other drugs requires complex pathways. The pathways to produce such compounds can be transplanted into microbes or other more suitable organism for production purposes. For example, the world's supply of the anti-cancer drug vinblastine is produced by relatively ineffient extraction and purification of the precursors vindoline and catharanthine from the plant Catharanthus roseus , which are then chemically converted into vinblastine. The biosynthetic pathway to produce vinblastine, including 30 enzymatic steps, has been transferred into yeast cells which is a convenient system to grow in large amounts. With these genetic modifications yeast can use its own metabolites geranyl pyrophosphate and tryptophan to produce the precursors of catharanthine and vindoline. This process required 56 genetic edits, including expression of 34 heterologous genes from plants in yeast cells. [24]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Adenosine triphosphate</span> Energy-carrying molecule in living cells

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is an organic compound that provides energy to drive many processes in living cells, such as muscle contraction, nerve impulse propagation, condensate dissolution, and chemical synthesis. Found in all known forms of life, ATP is often referred to as the "molecular unit of currency" of intracellular energy transfer. When consumed in metabolic processes, it converts either to adenosine diphosphate (ADP) or to adenosine monophosphate (AMP). Other processes regenerate ATP. The human body recycles its own body weight equivalent in ATP each day. It is also a precursor to DNA and RNA, and is used as a coenzyme.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Citric acid cycle</span> Metabolic pathway

The citric acid cycle (CAC)—also known as the Krebs cycle or the TCA cycle —is a series of chemical reactions to release stored energy through the oxidation of acetyl-CoA derived from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The Krebs cycle is used by organisms that respire to generate energy, either by anaerobic respiration or aerobic respiration. In addition, the cycle provides precursors of certain amino acids, as well as the reducing agent NADH, that are used in numerous other reactions. Its central importance to many biochemical pathways suggests that it was one of the earliest components of metabolism and may have originated abiogenically. Even though it is branded as a 'cycle', it is not necessary for metabolites to follow only one specific route; at least three alternative segments of the citric acid cycle have been recognized.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glycolysis</span> Catabolic pathway

Glycolysis is the metabolic pathway that converts glucose into pyruvate. The free energy released in this process is used to form the high-energy molecules adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH). Glycolysis is a sequence of ten reactions catalyzed by enzymes. Capture of bond energy of carbohydrates. Storage of ATP

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metabolism</span> Set of chemical reactions in organisms

Metabolism is the set of life-sustaining chemical reactions in organisms. The three main purposes of metabolism are: the conversion of the energy in food to energy available to run cellular processes; the conversion of food to building blocks for proteins, lipids, nucleic acids, and some carbohydrates; and the elimination of metabolic wastes. These enzyme-catalyzed reactions allow organisms to grow and reproduce, maintain their structures, and respond to their environments. The word metabolism can also refer to the sum of all chemical reactions that occur in living organisms, including digestion and the transportation of substances into and between different cells, in which case the above described set of reactions within the cells is called intermediary metabolism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kinase</span> Enzyme catalyzing transfer of phosphate groups onto specific substrates

In biochemistry, a kinase is an enzyme that catalyzes the transfer of phosphate groups from high-energy, phosphate-donating molecules to specific substrates. This process is known as phosphorylation, where the high-energy ATP molecule donates a phosphate group to the substrate molecule. This transesterification produces a phosphorylated substrate and ADP. Conversely, it is referred to as dephosphorylation when the phosphorylated substrate donates a phosphate group and ADP gains a phosphate group. These two processes, phosphorylation and dephosphorylation, occur four times during glycolysis.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Phosphorylation</span> Chemical process of introducing a phosphate

In chemistry, phosphorylation is the attachment of a phosphate group to a molecule or an ion. This process and its inverse, dephosphorylation, are common in biology. Protein phosphorylation often activates many enzymes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Adenosine diphosphate</span> Chemical compound

Adenosine diphosphate (ADP), also known as adenosine pyrophosphate (APP), is an important organic compound in metabolism and is essential to the flow of energy in living cells. ADP consists of three important structural components: a sugar backbone attached to adenine and two phosphate groups bonded to the 5 carbon atom of ribose. The diphosphate group of ADP is attached to the 5’ carbon of the sugar backbone, while the adenine attaches to the 1’ carbon.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cellular respiration</span> Process to convert glucose to ATP in cells

Cellular respiration is the process by which biological fuels are oxidised in the presence of an inorganic electron acceptor such as oxygen to produce large amounts of energy, to drive the bulk production of ATP. Cellular respiration may be described as a set of metabolic reactions and processes that take place in the cells of organisms to convert chemical energy from nutrients into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and then release waste products.

Anabolism is the set of metabolic pathways that construct molecules from smaller units. These reactions require energy, known also as an endergonic process. Anabolism is the building-up aspect of metabolism, whereas catabolism is the breaking-down aspect. Anabolism is usually synonymous with biosynthesis.

Gluconeogenesis (GNG) is a metabolic pathway that results in the generation of glucose from certain non-carbohydrate carbon substrates. It is a ubiquitous process, present in plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and other microorganisms. In vertebrates, gluconeogenesis occurs mainly in the liver and, to a lesser extent, in the cortex of the kidneys. It is one of two primary mechanisms – the other being degradation of glycogen (glycogenolysis) – used by humans and many other animals to maintain blood sugar levels, avoiding low levels (hypoglycemia). In ruminants, because dietary carbohydrates tend to be metabolized by rumen organisms, gluconeogenesis occurs regardless of fasting, low-carbohydrate diets, exercise, etc. In many other animals, the process occurs during periods of fasting, starvation, low-carbohydrate diets, or intense exercise.

Carbohydrate metabolism is the whole of the biochemical processes responsible for the metabolic formation, breakdown, and interconversion of carbohydrates in living organisms.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Phosphofructokinase 1</span> Class of enzymes

Phosphofructokinase-1 (PFK-1) is one of the most important regulatory enzymes of glycolysis. It is an allosteric enzyme made of 4 subunits and controlled by many activators and inhibitors. PFK-1 catalyzes the important "committed" step of glycolysis, the conversion of fructose 6-phosphate and ATP to fructose 1,6-bisphosphate and ADP. Glycolysis is the foundation for respiration, both anaerobic and aerobic. Because phosphofructokinase (PFK) catalyzes the ATP-dependent phosphorylation to convert fructose-6-phosphate into fructose 1,6-bisphosphate and ADP, it is one of the key regulatory steps of glycolysis. PFK is able to regulate glycolysis through allosteric inhibition, and in this way, the cell can increase or decrease the rate of glycolysis in response to the cell's energy requirements. For example, a high ratio of ATP to ADP will inhibit PFK and glycolysis. The key difference between the regulation of PFK in eukaryotes and prokaryotes is that in eukaryotes PFK is activated by fructose 2,6-bisphosphate. The purpose of fructose 2,6-bisphosphate is to supersede ATP inhibition, thus allowing eukaryotes to have greater sensitivity to regulation by hormones like glucagon and insulin.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pyruvate kinase</span> Class of enzymes

Pyruvate kinase is the enzyme involved in the last step of glycolysis. It catalyzes the transfer of a phosphate group from phosphoenolpyruvate (PEP) to adenosine diphosphate (ADP), yielding one molecule of pyruvate and one molecule of ATP. Pyruvate kinase was inappropriately named before it was recognized that it did not directly catalyze phosphorylation of pyruvate, which does not occur under physiological conditions. Pyruvate kinase is present in four distinct, tissue-specific isozymes in animals, each consisting of particular kinetic properties necessary to accommodate the variations in metabolic requirements of diverse tissues.

The term amphibolic is used to describe a biochemical pathway that involves both catabolism and anabolism. Catabolism is a degradative phase of metabolism in which large molecules are converted into smaller and simpler molecules, which involves two types of reactions. First, hydrolysis reactions, in which catabolism is the breaking apart of molecules into smaller molecules to release energy. Examples of catabolic reactions are digestion and cellular respiration, where sugars and fats are broken down for energy. Breaking down a protein into amino acids, or a triglyceride into fatty acids, or a disaccharide into monosaccharides are all hydrolysis or catabolic reactions. Second, oxidation reactions involve the removal of hydrogens and electrons from an organic molecule. Anabolism is the biosynthesis phase of metabolism in which smaller simple precursors are converted to large and complex molecules of the cell. Anabolism has two classes of reactions. The first are dehydration synthesis reactions; these involve the joining of smaller molecules together to form larger, more complex molecules. These include the formation of carbohydrates, proteins, lipids and nucleic acids. The second are reduction reactions, in which hydrogens and electrons are added to a molecule. Whenever that is done, molecules gain energy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glucose 6-phosphate</span> Chemical compound

Glucose 6-phosphate is a glucose sugar phosphorylated at the hydroxy group on carbon 6. This dianion is very common in cells as the majority of glucose entering a cell will become phosphorylated in this way.

Bioenergetics is a field in biochemistry and cell biology that concerns energy flow through living systems. This is an active area of biological research that includes the study of the transformation of energy in living organisms and the study of thousands of different cellular processes such as cellular respiration and the many other metabolic and enzymatic processes that lead to production and utilization of energy in forms such as adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecules. That is, the goal of bioenergetics is to describe how living organisms acquire and transform energy in order to perform biological work. The study of metabolic pathways is thus essential to bioenergetics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1,3-Bisphosphoglyceric acid</span> Chemical compound

1,3-Bisphosphoglyceric acid (1,3-Bisphosphoglycerate or 1,3BPG) is a 3-carbon organic molecule present in most, if not all, living organisms. It primarily exists as a metabolic intermediate in both glycolysis during respiration and the Calvin cycle during photosynthesis. 1,3BPG is a transitional stage between glycerate 3-phosphate and glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate during the fixation/reduction of CO2. 1,3BPG is also a precursor to 2,3-bisphosphoglycerate which in turn is a reaction intermediate in the glycolytic pathway.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tumor metabolome</span>

The study of the tumor metabolism, also known as tumor metabolome describes the different characteristic metabolic changes in tumor cells. The characteristic attributes of the tumor metabolome are high glycolytic enzyme activities, the expression of the pyruvate kinase isoenzyme type M2, increased channeling of glucose carbons into synthetic processes, such as nucleic acid, amino acid and phospholipid synthesis, a high rate of pyrimidine and purine de novo synthesis, a low ratio of Adenosine triphosphate and Guanosine triphosphate to Cytidine triphosphate and Uridine triphosphate, low Adenosine monophosphate levels, high glutaminolytic capacities, release of immunosuppressive substances and dependency on methionine.

A futile cycle, also known as a substrate cycle, occurs when two metabolic pathways run simultaneously in opposite directions and have no overall effect other than to dissipate energy in the form of heat. The reason this cycle was called "futile" cycle was because it appeared that this cycle operated with no net utility for the organism. As such, it was thought of being a quirk of the metabolism and thus named a futile cycle. After further investigation it was seen that futile cycles are very important for regulating the concentrations of metabolites. For example, if glycolysis and gluconeogenesis were to be active at the same time, glucose would be converted to pyruvate by glycolysis and then converted back to glucose by gluconeogenesis, with an overall consumption of ATP. Futile cycles may have a role in metabolic regulation, where a futile cycle would be a system oscillating between two states and very sensitive to small changes in the activity of any of the enzymes involved. The cycle does generate heat, and may be used to maintain thermal homeostasis, for example in the brown adipose tissue of young mammals, or to generate heat rapidly, for example in insect flight muscles and in hibernating animals during periodical arousal from torpor. It has been reported that the glucose metabolism substrate cycle is not a futile cycle but a regulatory process. For example, when energy is suddenly needed, ATP is replaced by AMP, a much more reactive adenine.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sucrose phosphorylase</span>

Sucrose phosphorylase is an important enzyme in the metabolism of sucrose and regulation of other metabolic intermediates. Sucrose phosphorylase is in the class of hexosyltransferases. More specifically it has been placed in the retaining glycoside hydrolases family although it catalyzes a transglycosidation rather than hydrolysis. Sucrose phosphorylase catalyzes the conversion of sucrose to D-fructose and α-D-glucose-1-phosphate. It has been shown in multiple experiments that the enzyme catalyzes this conversion by a double displacement mechanism.


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Metabolic pathway diagram