In biochemistry, a metabolic pathway is a series of chemical reactions occurring within a cell. In each pathway a principal chemical is modified by chemical reactions. These reactions are accelerated, more accurately catalyzed, by enzymes. Dietary minerals, vitamins and other cofactors are often needed by the enzyme to perform its task. Many pathways are elaborate. Various metabolic pathways within each cell form that cell's metabolic network. Pathways are needed by an organism to keep its homeostasis.
Metabolism is a step by step modification of the initial molecule to shape it into another product. The result can be used in one of three ways.
- Stored by the cell.
- Be used immediately, as a metabolic product.
- Initiate another metabolic pathway, called a flux generating step.
A molecule called a substrate enters a metabolic pathway depending on the needs of the cell and the availability of the substrate. An increase in concentration of anabolical and catabolical end products would slow the metabolic rate for that particular pathway.
Metabolic pathways often have these properties:
- They contain many steps, like a cascade. The first step is usually irreversible. The other steps need not be irreversible and in many cases, the pathway can go in opposite direction depending on the current need of the cell.
- Glycolysis features excellent examples of these features:
- As glucose enters a cell it is immediately phosphorylated by ATP to glucose 6-phosphate in the irreversible first step. This is to prevent the glucose leaving the cell.
- In times of excess lipid or protein energy sources glycolysis may run in reverse (gluconeogenesis) in order to produce glucose 6-phosphate for storage as glycogen or starch.
- They are regulated, usually by feedback inhibition, or by a cycle where one of the products in the cycle starts the reaction again, such as the Krebs Cycle (see below).
- Anabolic and catabolic pathways in eukaryotes are separated by either compartmentation or by the use of different enzymes and cofactors.
Major metabolic pathways
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Other pathways occurring in (most or) all living organisms include:
- Fatty acid oxidation (β-oxidation)
- HMG-CoA reductase pathway (isoprene prenylation chains, see cholesterol)
- Pentose phosphate pathway (hexose monophosphate shunt)
- Porphyrin synthesis (or heme synthesis) pathway
- Urea cycle
Creation of energetic compounds from non-living matter:
- BioCyc: Metabolic network models for hundreds of organisms
- KEGG: Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes
- MetaCyc: A database of nonredundant, experimentally elucidated metabolic pathways (900+ pathways from more than 800 different organisms).
- Metabolism, Cellular Respiration and Photosynthesis - The Virtual Library of Biochemistry and Cell Biology
- PathCase Pathways Database System
- Interactive Flow Chart of the Major Metabolic Pathways