Glycolytic Enzymes


All cells must burn fuels to drive the myriad of cellular processes necessary for life. The most important organic fuel is glucose, a stable and soluble sugar that is particularly well suited for its role in biology. Cellular combustion of glucose occurs in 10 well‐controlled steps in which six‐carbon glucose molecules are broken apart (literally ‘glycolysis’) into three‐carbon compounds. In the same process, chemical energy is captured through the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the hydrolysis of which powers many cellular processes. The 10 enzymes which catalyse the steps of glycolysis are exceptionally well characterised with regard to structure, catalytic mechanism and activity regulation. They provide a fascinating array of enzymes that have been perfected over long evolution to carry out their tasks swiftly, efficiently and with finely tuned control. Glycolytic enzymes are recognised as promising targets in health and disease.

Key Concepts

  • Glycolysis is an ancient pathway comprising 10 enzymes that are present at least in part in all organisms.
  • Many enzymes occur as isoenzymes in different tissues or in response to different metabolic conditions.
  • Hexokinase activity is regulated by product inhibition.
  • A hinge‐bending motion of the two‐lobed structures of hexokinase and phosphoglycerate kinase is induced by substrate binding and is required to position the substrates correctly for catalysis.
  • Several reactions of the glycolytic pathway can be catalysed by pairs of nonhomologous enzymes (i.e. glucose‐6‐phosphate isomerase, aldolase, glyceraldehyde‐3‐phosphate dehydrogenase and phosphoglycerate mutase).
  • Phosphofructokinase occurs as two distantly related types that use different phosphodonors: ATP or inorganic pyrophosphate.
  • Activities of phosphofructokinase and pyruvate kinase are allosterically regulated.
  • A conserved protein fold of eight parallel β‐strands and eight parallel α helices, first identified in triosephosphate isomerase and therefore known as the ‘TIM barrel’, is found in several glycolytic enzymes and occurs in approximately 10% of all enzymes.
  • The Rossmann fold that occurs in many nucleotide‐binding proteins was first identified in glyceraldehyde‐3‐phosphate dehydrogenase.
  • Activities of glycolytic enzymes are sometimes regulated by posttranslational modification.

Keywords: allosteric regulation; drug discovery; enzyme evolution; hinge‐bending motion; isoenzymes; Rossmann fold; substrate‐level phosphorylation; TIM barrel

Figure 1. (a) Glycolysis and (b) the glycerol phosphate shuttle. The abbreviations are as follows: ALD, aldolase; DHAP, dihydroxyacetone phosphate; ENO, enolase; GAPDH, glyceraldehyde‐3‐phosphate dehydrogenase; GPDH, glycerol‐3‐phosphate dehydrogenase; Gly 3‐P, glycerol 3‐phosphate; HK, hexokinase; LDH, lactate dehydrogenase; PFK, phosphofructokinase; PGAM, phosphoglycerate mutase; PGI, glucose‐6‐phosphate isomerase: PGK, phosphoglycerate kinase; PYK, pyruvate kinase and TIM, triosephosphate isomerase. The letter ‘P’ in the chemical structures represents a phospho group.
Figure 2. The chimeric ATP (adenosine triphosphate)‐dependent phosphofructokinase from Trypanosoma brucei is an allosterically regulated homotetrameric enzyme. A cartoon representation shows a single subunit consisting of three domains in the foreground, with the remainder of the tetramer faded behind. ATP molecules at the active sites are shown in stick representation. Domains B and C (except the inserted loop) are characteristic of ATP‐dependent phosphofructokinases, whereas Domain A and a large, mostly α helical insertion (not shown) in the position of the inserted loop pertain to PPi‐dependent phosphofructokinases. The enzymes from protists such as T. brucei possess a unique inserted loop that forms an important part of the active site and an embracing arm as well as a C‐terminal helix that help to stabilise the quaternary structure. Comparison of the ligated structure with that of the unligated apoenzyme shows that the allosteric transition is characterised by an opening of the active sites to accommodate the substrates (primarily by the lifting of the inserted loops), together with a dramatic ordering of the C‐terminal helices which stabilise the tetramer in an active conformation. This mechanism is fundamentally different from that of bacterial phosphofructokinases. Those enzymes are arranged as dimers of dimers that rotate approximately 7° with respect to each other during the allosteric transition and thereby increase the affinity for ATP and fructose 6‐phosphate by replacing an unfavourable glutamic acid side chain at the active site by a favourable arginine side chain (Schirmer and Evans, ). Courtesy of Dr Iain McNae, The University of Edinburgh.
Figure 3. Glyceraldehyde‐3‐phosphate dehydrogenase is a homotetrameric enzyme that requires the participation of the cofactor NAD+. (a) Cartoon representation of one subunit of human glyceraldehyde‐3‐phosphate dehydrogenase with bound NAD+ in stick representation. The two Rossmann folds in the cofactor‐binding domain are shown in two shades of purple, with the remainder of the domain in green. The catalytic domain is shown in blue. Courtesy of Dr Daniel Rigden, University of Liverpool. (b) In the first step of the reaction pathway, a hemithioacetal is formed between the substrate glyceraldehyde 3‐phosphate and the sulfhydryl group of the cysteine residue at the active site. This leads to the conversion of the carbonyl group into an alcohol, which is oxidised by NAD+ (2). The energy‐rich thioester thus formed reacts with orthophosphate to produce 1,3‐bisphosphoglycerate (4). The acyl transfer in step 4 is very slow unless NAD+ is bound to the enzyme. The replacement of NADH by NAD+ (3) is therefore an essential step in the reaction sequence. R1 and R2 symbolise the rest of the substrate and NAD+ molecules, respectively.
Figure 4. Cofactor‐independent phosphoglycerate mutase undergoes large domain movements during catalysis. (a) The phosphatase domains (green) of the apoenzyme from Leishmania mexicana and the substrate‐bound enzyme from T. brucei were superposed and shown to have nearly identical conformations. However, a comparison of the transferase domains (with coloured helices) shows that the open conformation of the T. brucei enzyme (increased transparency) is very different from the closed conformation of the L. mexicana enzyme. This can be most easily seen by the faded red helix of the open conformation top right. The dashed red arrow indicates the movement of this helix to its position in the closed conformation. Rotation of the enzymes through 90° is shown in the right of panel (a). It can be seen that closure of the domains involves a rotation of 67° and translation of the centre of gyration (from grey to black dots). The substrate and metal ion (represented as spheres) are shown bound to the active site, which forms when both the transferase and phosphatase domains meet. (b) The schematic representation of these movements shows that the active site is exposed in the open form, allowing for substrate binding and product release. A rigid body rotation of the transferase domain closes the active site, allowing for the interconversion of 3‐ and 2‐phosphoglycerates. Reproduced from Blackburn et al. © Elsevier.
Figure 5. Human pyruvate kinase. (a) A cartoon representation of the homotetrameric structure of human pyruvate kinase shows the positions of bound substrates and the effectors fructose 1,6‐bisphosphate (FBP) and serine (in space‐filling representation). Domains of one subunit are coloured [N‐terminal domain (red, residues 14–43); A‐domain (blue, residues 25–116 and 220–402); B‐domain (yellow, residues 117–219) and C‐domain (green, residues 403–531)]. The other three subunits are shown in grey. The cartoon is mainly based on structures of human pyruvate kinase M2 (PDB code: 4B2D and 4FXF) (Chaneton et al., and Morgan et al., ). (b) The regulation of human pyruvate kinase by metabolites. The blue solid arrow shows the transformation of pyruvate kinase between active tetramer (green) and inactive tetramer (orange). Green dotted arrows show that FBP and serine stabilise pyruvate kinase in the active form and thereby activate its enzymic activity. In contrast, phenylalanine, tryptophan and alanine inhibit its enzymic activity by stabilising it in an inactive form (shown with orange dotted arrows). Autophagic alanine secretion from neighbouring cells (Sousa et al., ) is shown in purple. Courtesy of Dr Meng Yuan, Scripps Institute, USA.


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Further Reading

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Michels, Paul AM, and Fothergill‐Gilmore, Linda A(Jul 2017) Glycolytic Enzymes. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000621.pub3]