Cofactors and Coenzymes

Many enzymes are completely inactive when isolated in a pure state. Evidently some of the ions and smaller organic molecules that are removed in the purification procedure play an essential role in enzyme activity. These ions and smaller organic molecules needed for the activity of specific enzymes are called co-factors and coenzymes.

Cofactors include metal ions such as Ca2+, Mg2+, Mn2+, Cu2+, Zn2+, and selenium. Some enzymes with a cofactor requirement do not have a properly shaped active site in the absence of the cofactor. In these enzymes, the attachment of cofactors causes a conformational change in the protein that allows it to combine with its substrate. The cofactors of other enzymes participate in the temporary bonds between the enzyme and its substrate when the enzyme-substrate complex is formed (fig. 4.5).

Coenzymes are organic molecules, derived from water-soluble vitamins such as niacin and riboflavin, that are needed for the function of particular enzymes. Coenzymes participate in enzyme-catalyzed reactions by transporting hydrogen atoms and small molecules from one enzyme to another. Examples of the actions of cofactors and coenzymes in specific reactions will be given in the context of their roles in cellular metabolism later in this chapter.

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