Substrates bind to pockets called active sites in the enzyme surface and create a temporary enzyme-substrate complex. The enzyme may break covalent bonds and convert the substrate to a reaction product, or it may hold two or more substrates close together, in adjacent active sites, thus enabling the substrates to react with each other (fig. 2.27). The enzyme then releases the reaction products and is free to begin the process again. Since enzymes are not consumed by the reactions they catalyze, one enzyme molecule can convert millions of substrate molecules, and at astonishing speeds. A single molecule of carbonic anhy-drase, for example, breaks carbonic acid (H2CO3) down to H2O and CO2 at a rate of 36 million molecules per minute.
A substrate fits an enzyme somewhat like a key fits a lock. A given enzyme is very selective—that is, it exhibits enzyme-substrate specificity. An enzyme that oxidizes glucose, for example, will not act on the similar sugar galactose, which does not fit its active site.
Factors that change the shape of an enzyme—notably temperature and pH—tend to alter or destroy the ability of the enzyme to bind its substrate. They disrupt the hydrogen bonds and other weak forces that hold the enzyme in its proper conformation, essentially changing the shape of the "lock" (active site) so that the "key" (substrate) no longer fits. Enzymes vary in optimum pH according to where in the body they normally function. Thus salivary amylase, which digests starch in the mouth, functions best at pH 7 and is inactivated when it is exposed to stomach acid; pepsin, which works in the acidic environment of the stomach, functions best around pH 2; and trypsin, a digestive enzyme that works in the alkaline environment of the small intestine, has an optimum pH of 9.5. Our internal body temperature is nearly the same everywhere, however, and all human enzymes have a temperature optimum (that is, they produce their fastest reaction rates) near 37°C.
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This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.