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23.5A: Breakdown of Pyruvate

After glycolysis, pyruvate is converted into acetyl CoA in order to enter the citric acid cycle.




Explain why cells break down pyruvate



Key Points


  • In the conversion of pyruvate to acetyl CoA, each pyruvate molecule loses one carbon atom with the release of carbon dioxide.
  • During the breakdown of pyruvate, electrons are transferred to NAD+ to produce NADH, which will be used by the cell to produce ATP.
  • In the final step of the breakdown of pyruvate, an acetyl group is transferred to Coenzyme A to produce acetyl CoA.


Key Terms


  • acetyl CoA: a molecule that conveys the carbon atoms from glycolysis (pyruvate) to the citric acid cycle to be oxidized for energy production

Breakdown of Pyruvate

In order for pyruvate, the product of glycolysis, to enter the next pathway, it must undergo several changes to become acetyl Coenzyme A (acetyl CoA). Acetyl CoA is a molecule that is further converted to oxaloacetate, which enters the citric acid cycle (Krebs cycle). The conversion of pyruvate to acetyl CoA is a three-step process.



Breakdown of Pyruvate: Each pyruvate molecule loses a carboxylic group in the form of carbon dioxide. The remaining two carbons are then transferred to the enzyme CoA to produce Acetyl CoA.

Step 1. A carboxyl group is removed from pyruvate, releasing a molecule of carbon dioxide into the surrounding medium. (Note: carbon dioxide is one carbon attached to two oxygen atoms and is one of the major end products of cellular respiration. ) The result of this step is a two-carbon hydroxyethyl group bound to the enzyme pyruvate dehydrogenase; the lost carbon dioxide is the first of the six carbons from the original glucose molecule to be removed. This step proceeds twice for every molecule of glucose metabolized (remember: there are two pyruvate molecules produced at the end of glycolysis); thus, two of the six carbons will have been removed at the end of both of these steps.

Step 2. The hydroxyethyl group is oxidized to an acetyl group, and the electrons are picked up by NAD+, forming NADH (the reduced form of NAD+). The high- energy electrons from NADH will be used later by the cell to generate ATP for energy.

Step 3. The enzyme-bound acetyl group is transferred to CoA, producing a molecule of acetyl CoA. This molecule of acetyl CoA is then further converted to be used in the next pathway of metabolism, the citric acid cycle.