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Berg JM, Tymoczko JL, Stryer L. Biochemistry. 5th edition. New York: W H Freeman; 2002.

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Biochemistry. 5th edition.

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Section 22.2The Utilization of Fatty Acids as Fuel Requires Three Stages of Processing

Peripheral tissues gain access to the lipid energy reserves stored in adipose tissue through three stages of processing. First, the lipids must be mobilized. In this process, triacylglycerols are degraded to fatty acids and glycerol, which are released from the adipose tissue and transported to the energy-requiring tissues. Second, at these tissues, the fatty acids must be activated and transported into mitochondria for degradation. Third, the fatty acids are broken down in a step-by-step fashion into acetyl CoA, which is then processed in the citric acid cycle.

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22.2.1. Triacylglycerols Are Hydrolyzed by Cyclic AMP-Regulated Lipases

The initial event in the utilization of fat as an energy source is the hydrolysis of triacylglycerols by lipases, an event referred to as lipolysis. The lipase of adipose tissue are activated on treatment of these cells with the hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, glucagon, and adrenocorticotropic hormone. In adipose cells, these hormones trigger 7TM receptors that activate adenylate cyclase (Section 15.1.3 ). The increased level of cyclic AMP then stimulates protein kinase A, which activates the lipases by phosphorylating them. Thus, epinephrine, norepinephrine, glucagon, and adrenocorticotropic hormone induce lipolysis (Figure 22.6). In contrast, insulin inhibits lipolysis. The released fatty acids are not soluble in blood plasma, and so, on release, serum albumin binds the fatty acids and serves as a carrier. By these means, free fatty acids are made accessible as a fuel in other tissues.

Figure 22.6. Mobilization of Triacylglycerols.

Figure 22.6

Mobilization of Triacylglycerols. Triacylglycerols in adipose tissue are converted into free fatty acids and glycerol for release into the bloodstream in response to hormonal signals. A hormone-sensitive lipase initiates the process.

Glycerol formed by lipolysis is absorbed by the liver and phosphorylated, oxidized to dihydroxyacetone phosphate, and then isomerized to glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate. This molecule is an intermediate in both the glycolytic and the gluconeogenic pathways.

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Hence, glycerol can be converted into pyruvate or glucose in the liver, which contains the appropriate enzymes. The reverse process can take place by the reduction of dihydroxyacetone phosphate to glycerol 3-phosphate. Hydrolysis by a phosphatase then gives glycerol. Thus, glycerol and glycolytic intermediates are readily interconvertible.

22.2.2. Fatty Acids Are Linked to Coenzyme A Before They Are Oxidized

Eugene Kennedy and Albert Lehninger showed in 1949 that fatty acids are oxidized in mitochondria. Subsequent work demonstrated that they are activated before they enter the mitochondrial matrix. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) drives the formation of a thioester linkage between the carboxyl group of a fatty acid and the sulfhydryl group of CoA. This activation reaction takes place on the outer mitochondrial membrane, where it is catalyzed by acyl CoA synthetase (also called fatty acid thiokinase).

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Paul Berg showed that the activation of a fatty acid is accomplished in two steps. First, the fatty acid reacts with ATP to form an acyl adenylate. In this mixed anhydride, the carboxyl group of a fatty acid is bonded to the phosphoryl group of AMP. The other two phosphoryl groups of the ATP substrate are released as pyrophosphate. The sulfhydryl group of CoA then attacks the acyl adenylate, which is tightly bound to the enzyme, to form acyl CoA and AMP.

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These partial reactions are freely reversible. In fact, the equilibrium constant for the sum of these reactions is close to 1. One high-transfer-potential compound is cleaved (between PPi and AMP) and one high-transfer-potential compound is formed (the thioester acyl CoA). How is the overall reaction driven forward? The answer is that pyrophosphate is rapidly hydrolyzed by a pyrophosphatase, and so the complete reaction is

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This reaction is quite favorable because the equivalent of two molecules of ATP is hydrolyzed, whereas only one high-transfer-potential compound is formed. We see here another example of a recurring theme in biochemistry: many biosynthetic reactions are made irreversible by the hydrolysis of inorganic pyrophosphate.

Image tree.jpg Another motif recurs in this activation reaction. The enzyme-bound acyl-adenylate intermediate is not unique to the synthesis of acyl CoA. Acyl adenylates are frequently formed when carboxyl groups are activated in biochemical reactions. Amino acids are activated for protein synthesis by a similar mechanism (Section 29.2.1), although the enzymes that catalyze this process are not homologous to acyl CoA synthetase. Thus, activation by adenylation recurs in part because of convergent evolution.

22.2.3. Carnitine Carries Long-Chain Activated Fatty Acids into the Mitochondrial Matrix

Fatty acids are activated on the outer mitochondrial membrane, whereas they are oxidized in the mitochondrial matrix. A special transport mechanism is needed to carry long-chain acyl CoA molecules across the inner mitochondrial membrane. Activated long-chain fatty acids are transported across the membrane by conjugating them to carnitine, a zwitterionic alcohol. The acyl group is transferred from the sulfur atom of CoA to the hydroxyl group of carnitine to form acyl carnitine. This reaction is catalyzed by carnitine acyltransferase I (also called carnitine palmitoyl transferase I), which is bound to the outer mitochondrial membrane.

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Acyl carnitine is then shuttled across the inner mitochondrial membrane by a translocase (Figure 22.7). The acyl group is transferred back to CoA on the matrix side of the membrane. This reaction, which is catalyzed by carnitine acyltransferase II (carnitine palmitoyl transferase II), is simply the reverse of the reaction that takes place in the cytosol. Normally, the transfer of an acyl group from an alcohol to a sulfhydryl group is thermodynamically unfavorable. However, the equilibrium constant for this reaction for carnitine is near 1, apparently because carnatine and its esters are solvated differently from most other alcohols and their esters because of the zwitterionic nature of carnitine. As a result, the O-acyl link in carnitine has a high group-transfer potential. Finally, the translocase returns carnitine to the cytosolic side in exchange for an incoming acyl carnitine.

Figure 22.7. Acyl Carnitine Translocase.

Figure 22.7

Acyl Carnitine Translocase. The entry of acyl carnitine into the mitochondrial matrix is mediated by a translocase. Carnitine returns to the cytosolic side of the inner mitochondrial membrane in exchange for acyl carnitine.

Image caduceus.jpg A number of diseases have been traced to a deficiency of carnitine, the transferase or the translocase. The symptoms of carnitine deficiency range from mild muscle cramping to severe weakness and even death. The muscle, kidney, and heart are the tissues primarily affected. Muscle weakness during prolonged exercise is an important characteristic of a deficiency of carnitine acyl transferases because muscle relies on fatty acids as a long-term source of energy. Medium-chain (C8-C10) fatty acids, which do not require carnitine to enter the mitochondria, are oxidized normally in these patients. These diseases illustrate that the impaired flow of a metabolite from one compartment of a cell to another can lead to a pathological condition.

22.2.4. Acetyl CoA, NADH, and FADH2 Are Generated in Each Round of Fatty Acid Oxidation

A saturated acyl CoA is degraded by a recurring sequence of four reactions: oxidation by flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD), hydration, oxidation by NAD+, and thiolysis by CoA (Figure 22.8). The fatty acyl chain is shortened by two carbon atoms as a result of these reactions, and FADH2, NADH, and acetyl CoA are generated. Because oxidation is on the β carbon, this series of reactions is called the β-oxidation pathway.

Figure 22.8. Reaction Sequence for the Degradation of Fatty Acids.

Figure 22.8

Reaction Sequence for the Degradation of Fatty Acids. Fatty acids are degraded by the repetition of a four-reaction sequence consisting of oxidation, hydration, oxidation, and thiolysis.

The first reaction in each round of degradation is the oxidation of acyl CoA by an acyl CoA dehydrogenase to give an enoyl CoA with a trans double bond between C-2 and C-3.

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As in the dehydrogenation of succinate in the citric acid cycle, FAD rather than NAD+ is the electron acceptor because the value of ΔG for this reaction is insufficient to drive the reduction of NAD+. Electrons from the FADH2 prosthetic group of the reduced acyl CoA dehydrogenase are transferred to a second flavoprotein called electron-transferring flavoprotein (ETF). In turn, ETF donates electrons to ETF:ubiquinone reductase, an iron-sulfur protein. Ubiquinone is thereby reduced to ubiquinol, which delivers its high-potential electrons to the second proton-pumping site of the respiratory chain (Section 18.3.3). Consequently, 1.5 molecules of ATP are generated per molecule of FADH2 formed in this dehydrogenation step, as in the oxidation of succinate to fumarate (Section 18.3.2).

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The next step is the hydration of the double bond between C-2 and C-3 by enoyl CoA hydratase.

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The hydration of enoyl CoA is stereospecific. Only the l isomer of 3-hydroxyacyl CoA is formed when the trans-Δ2 double bond is hydrated. The enzyme also hydrates a cis-Δ2 double bond, but the product then is the d isomer. We shall return to this point shortly in considering how unsaturated fatty acids are oxidized.

The hydration of enoyl CoA is a prelude to the second oxidation reaction, which converts the hydroxyl group at C-3 into a keto group and generates NADH. This oxidation is catalyzed by l-3-hydroxyacyl CoA dehydrogenase, which is specific for the l isomer of the hydroxyacyl substrate.

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The preceding reactions have oxidized the methylene group at C-3 to a keto group. The final step is the cleavage of 3-ketoacyl CoA by the thiol group of a second molecule of CoA, which yields acetyl CoA and an acyl CoA shortened by two carbon atoms. This thiolytic cleavage is catalyzed by β-ketothiolase.

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Table 22.1 summarizes the reactions in fatty acid oxidation.

Table 22.1. Principal reactions in fatty acid oxidation.

Table 22.1

Principal reactions in fatty acid oxidation.

The shortened acyl CoA then undergoes another cycle of oxidation, starting with the reaction catalyzed by acyl CoA dehydrogenase (Figure 22.9). Fatty acyl chains containing from 12 to 18 carbon atoms are oxidized by the long-chain acyl CoA dehydrogenase. The medium-chain acyl CoA dehydrogenase oxidizes fatty acyl chains having from 14 to 4 carbons, whereas the short-chain acyl CoA dehydrogenase acts only on 4- and 6- carbon acyl chains. In contrast, β-ketothiolase, hydroxyacyl dehydrogenase, and enoyl CoA hydratase have broad specificity with respect to the length of the acyl group.

Figure 22.9. First Three Rounds in the Degradation of Palmitate.

Figure 22.9

First Three Rounds in the Degradation of Palmitate. Two-carbon units are sequentially removed from the carboxyl end of the fatty acid.

22.2.5. The Complete Oxidation of Palmitate Yields 106 Molecules of ATP

We can now calculate the energy yield derived from the oxidation of a fatty acid. In each reaction cycle, an acyl CoA is shortened by two carbon atoms, and one molecule each of FADH2, NADH, and acetyl CoA is formed.

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The degradation of palmitoyl CoA (C16-acyl CoA) requires seven reaction cycles. In the seventh cycle, the C4-ketoacyl CoA is thiolyzed to two molecules of acetyl CoA. Hence, the stoichiometry of oxidation of palmitoyl CoA is

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Approximately 2.5 molecules of ATP are generated when the respiratory chain oxidizes each of the 7 molecules of NADH, whereas 1.5 molecules of ATP are formed for each of the 7 molecules of FADH2 because their electrons enter the chain at the level of ubiquinol. Recall that the oxidation of acetyl CoA by the citric acid cycle yields 10 molecules of ATP. Hence, the number of ATP molecules formed in the oxidation of palmitoyl CoA is 10.5 from the 7 molecules of FADH2, 17.5 from the 7 molecules of NADH, and 80 from the 8 molecules of acetyl CoA, which gives a total of 108. The equivalent of 2 molecules of ATP is consumed in the activation of palmitate, in which ATP is split into AMP and 2 molecules of Pi. Thus, the complete oxidation of a molecule of palmitate yields 106 molecules of ATP.

By agreement with the publisher, this book is accessible by the search feature, but cannot be browsed.

Copyright © 2002, W. H. Freeman and Company.
Bookshelf ID: NBK22581


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