2-4-4. Oxidation of Pyruvate and the Citric Acid Cycle
If oxygen is available, aerobic respiration will go forward. In eukaryotic cells, the pyruvate molecules produced at the end of glycolysis are transported into mitochondria, which are the sites of cellular respiration. There, pyruvate will be transformed into an acetyl group that will be picked up and activated by a carrier compound called coenzyme A (CoA). The resulting compound is called
Breakdown of Pyruvate
In order for pyruvate, the product of glycolysis, to enter the next pathway, it must undergo several changes. The conversion is a three-step process (Figure 1).
Step 1. A carboxyl group is removed from pyruvate, releasing a molecule of carbon dioxide into the surrounding medium. The result of this step is a two-carbon hydroxyethyl group bound to the enzyme (pyruvate dehydrogenase). This is the first of the six carbons from the original glucose molecule to be removed. This step proceeds twice (remember: there are two pyruvate molecules produced at the end of glycolsis) for every molecule of glucose metabolized; thus, two of the six carbons will have been removed at the end of both steps.
Step 2. The hydroxyethyl group is oxidized to an acetyl group, and the electrons are picked up by NAD+, forming NADH. The high-energy electrons from NADH will be used later to generate ATP.
Step 3. The enzyme-bound acetyl group is transferred to CoA, producing a molecule of acetyl CoA.
Note that during the second stage of glucose metabolism, whenever a carbon atom is removed, it is bound to two oxygen atoms, producing carbon dioxide, one of the major end products of cellular respiration.
Acetyl CoA to CO2
In the presence of oxygen, acetyl CoA delivers its acetyl group to a four-carbon molecule, oxaloacetate, to form citrate, a six-carbon molecule with three carboxyl groups; this pathway will harvest the remainder of the extractable energy from what began as a glucose molecule. This single pathway is called by different names: the
Citric Acid Cycle
Like the conversion of pyruvate to acetyl CoA, the citric acid cycle takes place in the matrix of mitochondria. Almost all of the enzymes of the citric acid cycle are soluble, with the single exception of the enzyme succinate dehydrogenase, which is embedded in the inner membrane of the mitochondrion. Unlike glycolysis, the citric acid cycle is a closed loop: The last part of the pathway regenerates the compound used in the first step. The eight steps of the cycle are a series of redox, dehydration, hydration, and decarboxylation reactions that produce two carbon dioxide molecules, one GTP/ATP, and reduced forms of NADH and FADH2 (Figure 2). This is considered an aerobic pathway because the NADH and FADH2 produced must transfer their electrons to the next pathway in the system, which will use oxygen. If this transfer does not occur, the oxidation steps of the citric acid cycle also do not occur. Note that the citric acid cycle produces very little ATP directly and does not directly consume oxygen.
Steps in the Citric Acid Cycle
Step 1. Prior to the start of the first step, a transitional phase occurs during which pyruvic acid is converted to acetyl CoA. Then, the first step of the cycle begins: This is a condensation step, combining the two-carbon acetyl group with a four-carbon oxaloacetate molecule to form a six-carbon molecule of citrate. CoA is bound to a sulfhydryl group (-SH) and diffuses away to eventually combine with another acetyl group. This step is irreversible because it is highly exergonic. The rate of this reaction is controlled by negative feedback and the amount of ATP available. If ATP levels increase, the rate of this reaction decreases. If ATP is in short supply, the rate increases.
Step 2. In step two, citrate loses one water molecule and gains another as citrate is converted into its isomer, isocitrate.
Step 3. In step three, isocitrate is oxidized, producing a five-carbon molecule, α-ketoglutarate, together with a molecule of CO2 and two electrons, which reduce NAD+ to NADH. This step is also regulated by negative feedback from ATP and NADH, and a positive effect of ADP.
Steps 3 and 4. Steps three and four are both oxidation and decarboxylation steps, which release electrons that reduce NAD+ to NADH and release carboxyl groups that form CO2 molecules. α-Ketoglutarate is the product of step three, and a succinyl group is the product of step four. CoA binds the succinyl group to form succinyl CoA. The enzyme that catalyzes step four is regulated by feedback inhibition of ATP, succinyl CoA, and NADH.
Step 5. In step five, a phosphate group is substituted for coenzyme A, and a high-energy bond is formed. This energy is used in substrate-level phosphorylation (during the conversion of the succinyl group to succinate) to form either guanine triphosphate (GTP) or ATP. There are two forms of the enzyme, called isoenzymes, for this step, depending upon the type of animal tissue in which they are found. One form is found in tissues that use large amounts of ATP, such as heart and skeletal muscle. This form produces ATP. The second form of the enzyme is found in tissues that have a high number of anabolic pathways, such as liver. This form produces GTP. GTP is energetically equivalent to ATP; however, its use is more restricted. In particular, protein synthesis primarily uses GTP.
Step 6. Step six is a dehydration process that converts succinate into fumarate. Two hydrogen atoms are transferred to FAD, producing FADH2. The energy contained in the electrons of these atoms is insufficient to reduce NAD+ but adequate to reduce FAD. Unlike NADH, this carrier remains attached to the enzyme and transfers the electrons to the electron transport chain directly. This process is made possible by the localization of the enzyme catalyzing this step inside the inner membrane of the mitochondrion.
Step 7. Water is added to fumarate during step seven, and malate is produced. The last step in the citric acid cycle regenerates oxaloacetate by oxidizing malate. Another molecule of NADH is produced in the process.
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