In cellular metabolism (the complete breakdown of glucose to extract energy), glycolysis is the first step. Glycolysis takes place in the cytoplasm of both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. Glucose enters heterotrophic cells in two ways. One method is through secondary active transport, where the transport takes place against the glucose concentration gradient. The other mechanism uses a group of integral proteins called GLUT proteins, also known as glucose transporter proteins. These transporters facilitate the diffusion of glucose.
Glycolysis begins with the six-carbon ring-shaped structure of a single glucose molecule and ends with two molecules of a three-carbon sugar called pyruvate. Glycolysis consists of two distinct phases. The first phase of the glycolysis pathway traps the glucose molecule in the cell and uses energy to modify it so that the six-carbon sugar molecule can be split evenly into the two three-carbon molecules. The second phase of glycolysis extracts energy from the molecules and stores it in the form of ATP and NADH—remember: this is the reduced form of NAD.
First phase of Glycolysis (Energy-Requiring Steps or Preparatory Phase)
Step 1. The first step in glycolysis is catalyzed by hexokinase, an enzyme with broad specificity, that catalyzes the phosphorylation of six-carbon sugars. Hexokinase phosphorylates glucose using ATP as the source of the phosphate, producing glucose-6-phosphate, a more reactive form of glucose. This reaction prevents the phosphorylated glucose molecule from continuing to interact with the GLUT proteins. Also, because it is negatively charged, the phosphate can no longer leave the cell because charge will not allow it to cross the hydrophobic interior of the plasma membrane.
Step 2. In the second step of glycolysis, an isomerase converts glucose-6-phosphate into one of its isomers, fructose-6-phosphate (this isomer has a phosphate attached at the location of the sixth carbon of the ring). An isomerase is an enzyme that catalyzes the conversion of a molecule into one of its isomers. (This change from phosphoglucose to phosphofructose allows the eventual split of the sugar into two three-carbon molecules.)
Step 3. The third step is the phosphorylation of fructose-6-phosphate, catalyzed by the enzyme phosphofructokinase. A second ATP molecule donates a high-energy phosphate to fructose-6-phosphate, producing fructose-1,6-bisphosphate. In this pathway, phosphofructokinase is a rate-limiting enzyme. It is active when the concentration of ADP is high; it is less active when ADP levels are low and the concentration of ATP is high. Thus, if there is "sufficient" ATP in the system, the pathway slows down. This is a type of end product inhibition, since ATP is the end product of glucose catabolism.
Step 4. The newly added high-energy phosphates further destabilize fructose-1,6-bisphosphate. The fourth step in glycolysis employs an enzyme, aldolase, to cleave fructose-1,6-bisphosphate into two three-carbon isomers: dihydroxyacetone phosphate and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate.
Step 5. In the fifth step, an isomerase transforms the dihydroxyacetone-phosphate into its isomer, glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate. Thus, the pathway will continue with two molecules of a glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate. At this point in the pathway, there is a net investment of energy from two ATP molecules in the breakdown of one glucose molecule.
This text is adapted from Openstax, Biology 2e, Section 7.2: Glycolysis
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