All biological macromolecules are much less thermody-namically stable than their monomeric subunits, yet they are kinetically stable: their uncatalyzed breakdown occurs so slowly (over years rather than seconds) that, on a time scale that matters for the organism, these molecules are stable. Virtually every chemical reaction in a cell occurs at a significant rate only because of the presence of enzymes—biocatalysts that, like all other catalysts, greatly enhance the rate of specific chemical reactions without being consumed in the process.
The path from reactant(s) to product(s) almost invariably involves an energy barrier, called the activation barrier (Fig. 1-27), that must be surmounted for any reaction to proceed. The breaking of existing bonds and formation of new ones generally requires, first, the distortion of the existing bonds, creating a transition state of higher free energy than either reactant or product. The highest point in the reaction coordinate diagram represents the transition state, and the difference in energy between the reactant in its ground state and in its transition state is the activation energy, AG*. An enzyme catalyzes a reaction by providing a more comfortable fit for the transition state: a surface that complements the transition state in stereochemistry, polarity, and charge. The binding of enzyme to the transition state is exergonic, and the energy released by this binding reduces the activation energy for the reaction and greatly increases the reaction rate.
A further contribution to catalysis occurs when two or more reactants bind to the enzyme's surface close to each other and with stereospecific orientations that fa vor the reaction. This increases by orders of magnitude the probability of productive collisions between reac-tants. As a result of these factors and several others, discussed in Chapter 6, enzyme-catalyzed reactions commonly proceed at rates greater than 1012 times faster than the uncatalyzed reactions.
Cellular catalysts are, with a few exceptions, proteins. (In some cases, RNA molecules have catalytic roles, as discussed in Chapters 26 and 27.) Again with a few exceptions, each enzyme catalyzes a specific reaction, and each reaction in a cell is catalyzed by a different enzyme. Thousands of different enzymes are therefore required by each cell. The multiplicity of enzymes, their specificity (the ability to discriminate between reactants), and their susceptibility to regulation give cells the capacity to lower activation barriers selectively. This selectivity is crucial for the effective regulation of cellular processes. By allowing specific reactions to proceed at significant rates at particular times, enzymes determine how matter and energy are channeled into cellular activities.
The thousands of enzyme-catalyzed chemical reactions in cells are functionally organized into many sequences of consecutive reactions, called pathways, in which the product of one reaction becomes the reactant in the next. Some pathways degrade organic nutrients into simple end products in order to extract chemical energy and convert it into a form useful to the cell; together these degradative, free-energy-yielding reactions are designated catabolism. Other pathways start with small precursor molecules and convert them to progressively larger and more complex molecules, including proteins and nucleic acids. Such synthetic pathways, o
Activation barrier (transition state, $)
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