Enzyme Kinetics - Enzyme Assays

Enzyme Assays

Enzyme assays are laboratory procedures that measure the rate of enzyme reactions. Because enzymes are not consumed by the reactions they catalyse, enzyme assays usually follow changes in the concentration of either substrates or products to measure the rate of reaction. There are many methods of measurement. Spectrophotometric assays observe change in the absorbance of light between products and reactants; radiometric assays involve the incorporation or release of radioactivity to measure the amount of product made over time. Spectrophotometric assays are most convenient since they allow the rate of the reaction to be measured continuously. Although radiometric assays require the removal and counting of samples (i.e., they are discontinuous assays) they are usually extremely sensitive and can measure very low levels of enzyme activity. An analogous approach is to use mass spectrometry to monitor the incorporation or release of stable isotopes as substrate is converted into product.

The most sensitive enzyme assays use lasers focused through a microscope to observe changes in single enzyme molecules as they catalyse their reactions. These measurements either use changes in the fluorescence of cofactors during an enzyme's reaction mechanism, or of fluorescent dyes added onto specific sites of the protein to report movements that occur during catalysis. These studies are providing a new view of the kinetics and dynamics of single enzymes, as opposed to traditional enzyme kinetics, which observes the average behaviour of populations of millions of enzyme molecules.

An example progress curve for an enzyme assay is shown above. The enzyme produces product at an initial rate that is approximately linear for a short period after the start of the reaction. As the reaction proceeds and substrate is consumed, the rate continuously slows (so long as substrate is not still at saturating levels). To measure the initial (and maximal) rate, enzyme assays are typically carried out while the reaction has progressed only a few percent towards total completion. The length of the initial rate period depends on the assay conditions and can range from milliseconds to hours. However, equipment for rapidly mixing liquids allows fast kinetic measurements on initial rates of less than one second. These very rapid assays are essential for measuring pre-steady-state kinetics, which are discussed below.

Most enzyme kinetics studies concentrate on this initial, approximately linear part of enzyme reactions. However, it is also possible to measure the complete reaction curve and fit this data to a non-linear rate equation. This way of measuring enzyme reactions is called progress-curve analysis. This approach is useful as an alternative to rapid kinetics when the initial rate is too fast to measure accurately.

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