Enzyme kinetics is the investigation of how enzymes bind substrates and turn them into products. The rate data used in kinetic analyses are commonly obtained from enzyme assays, where since the 90s, the dynamics of many enzymes are studied on the level of individual molecules.
In 1902 Victor Henri proposed a quantitative theory of enzyme kinetics, but his experimental data were not useful because the significance of the hydrogen ion concentration was not yet appreciated. After Peter Lauritz Sørensen had defined the logarithmic pH-scale and introduced the concept of buffering in 1909 the German chemist Leonor Michaelis and his Canadian postdoc Maud Leonora Menten repeated Henri's experiments and confirmed his equation, which is referred to as Henri-Michaelis-Menten kinetics (termed also Michaelis-Menten kinetics). Their work was further developed by G. E. Briggs and J. B. S. Haldane, who derived kinetic equations that are still widely considered today a starting point in solving enzymatic activity.
The major contribution of Henri was to think of enzyme reactions in two stages. In the first, the substrate binds reversibly to the enzyme, forming the enzyme-substrate complex. This is sometimes called the Michaelis complex. The enzyme then catalyzes the chemical step in the reaction and releases the product. Note that the simple Michaelis Menten mechanism for the enzymatic activity is considered today a basic idea, where many examples show that the enzymatic activity involves structural dynamics. This is incorporated in the enzymatic mechanism while introducing several Michaelis Menten pathways that are connected with fluctuating rates. Nevertheless, there is a mathematical relation connecting the behavior obtained from the basic Michaelis Menten mechanism (that was indeed proved correct in many experiments) with the generalized Michaelis Menten mechanisms involving dynamics and activity; this means that the measured activity of enzymes on the level of many enzymes may be explained with the simple Michaelis-Menten equation, yet, the actual activity of enzymes is richer and involves structural dynamics.
Enzymes can catalyze up to several million reactions per second. For example, the uncatalyzed decarboxylation of orotidine 5'-monophosphate has a half life of 78 million years. However, when the enzyme orotidine 5'-phosphate decarboxylase is added, the same process takes just 25 milliseconds. Enzyme rates depend on solution conditions and substrate concentration. Conditions that denature the protein abolish enzyme activity, such as high temperatures, extremes of pH or high salt concentrations, while raising substrate concentration tends to increase activity when is low. To find the maximum speed of an enzymatic reaction, the substrate concentration is increased until a constant rate of product formation is seen. This is shown in the saturation curve on the right. Saturation happens because, as substrate concentration increases, more and more of the free enzyme is converted into the substrate-bound ES form. At the maximum reaction rate (Vmax) of the enzyme, all the enzyme active sites are bound to substrate, and the amount of ES complex is the same as the total amount of enzyme. However, Vmax is only one kinetic constant of enzymes. The amount of substrate needed to achieve a given rate of reaction is also important. This is given by the Michaelis-Menten constant (Km), which is the substrate concentration required for an enzyme to reach one-half its maximum reaction rate. Each enzyme has a characteristic Km for a given substrate, and this can show how tight the binding of the substrate is to the enzyme. Another useful constant is kcat, which is the number of substrate molecules handled by one active site per second.
The efficiency of an enzyme can be expressed in terms of kcat/Km. This is also called the specificity constant and incorporates the rate constants for all steps in the reaction. Because the specificity constant reflects both affinity and catalytic ability, it is useful for comparing different enzymes against each other, or the same enzyme with different substrates. The theoretical maximum for the specificity constant is called the diffusion limit and is about 108 to 109 (M−1 s−1). At this point every collision of the enzyme with its substrate will result in catalysis, and the rate of product formation is not limited by the reaction rate but by the diffusion rate. Enzymes with this property are called catalytically perfect or kinetically perfect. Example of such enzymes are triose-phosphate isomerase, carbonic anhydrase, acetylcholinesterase, catalase, fumarase, β-lactamase, and superoxide dismutase.
Michaelis-Menten kinetics relies on the law of mass action, which is derived from the assumptions of free diffusion and thermodynamically driven random collision. However, many biochemical or cellular processes deviate significantly from these conditions, because of macromolecular crowding, phase-separation of the enzyme/substrate/product, or one or two-dimensional molecular movement. In these situations, a fractal Michaelis-Menten kinetics may be applied.
Some enzymes operate with kinetics, which are faster than diffusion rates, which would seem to be impossible. Several mechanisms have been invoked to explain this phenomenon. Some proteins are believed to accelerate catalysis by drawing their substrate in and pre-orienting them by using dipolar electric fields. Other models invoke a quantum-mechanical tunneling explanation, whereby a proton or an electron can tunnel through activation barriers, although for proton tunneling this model remains somewhat controversial. Quantum tunneling for protons has been observed in tryptamine. This suggests that enzyme catalysis may be more accurately characterized as "through the barrier" rather than the traditional model, which requires substrates to go "over" a lowered energy barrier.
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