The oxidation of long-chain fatty acids to acetyl-CoA is a central energyyielding pathway in many organisms and tissues. In mammalian heart and liver, for example, it provides as much as 80% of the energetic needs under all physiological circumstances. The electrons removed from fatty acids during oxidation pass through the respiratory chain, driving ATP synthesis; the acetyl-CoA produced from the fatty acids may be completely oxidized to CO2 in the citric acid cycle, resulting in further energy conservation. In some species and in some tissues, the acetyl-CoA has alternative fates.

In liver, acetyl-CoA may be converted to ketone bodies— water-soluble fuels exported to the brain and other tissues when glucose is not available. In vascular plants, acetyl-CoA serves primarily as a biosynthetic precursor, only secondarily as fuel. Although the biological role of fatty acid oxidation differs from organism to organism, the mechanism is essentially the same. The repetitive four-step process by which fatty acids are converted into acetyl-CoA, called β oxidation.

Cells can obtain fatty acid fuels from four sources: fats consumed in the diet, fats stored in cells as lipid droplets, fats synthesized in one organ for export to another, and fats obtained by autophagy (which degrades the cell’s own organelles.

In vertebrates, before ingested triacylglycerols can be absorbed through the intestinal wall they must be converted from insoluble macroscopic fat particles to finely dispersed microscopic micelles. This solubilization is carried out by bile salts, such as taurocholic acid, which are synthesized from cholesterol in the liver, stored in the gallbladder, and released into the small intestine after ingestion of a fatty meal.

Bile salts are amphipathic compounds that act as biological detergents, converting dietary fats into mixed micelles of bile salts and triacylglycerols.

 Micelle formation enormously increases the fraction of lipid molecules accessible to the action of water-soluble lipases in the intestine, and lipase action converts triacylglycerols to monoacylglycerols (monoglycerides) and diacylglycerols (diglycerides), free fatty acids, and glycerol.

 These products of lipase action diffuse into the epithelial cells lining the intestinal surface (the intestinal mucosa.

Where they are reconverted to triacylglycerols and packaged with dietary cholesterol and specific proteins into lipoprotein aggregates called chylomicrons.

The protein moieties of lipoproteins are recognized by receptors on cell surfaces. In lipid uptake from the intestine, chylomicrons, which contain apolipoprotein C-II (apoC-II), move from the intestinal mucosa into the lymphatic system, and then enter the blood, which carries them to muscle and adipose tissue.

In the capillaries of these tissues, the extracellular enzyme lipoprotein lipase, activated by apoC-II, hydrolyzes triacylglycerols to fatty acids and glycerol.

Which are taken up by specific transporters in the plasma membranes of cells in the target tissues. In muscle, the fatty acids are oxidized for energy; in adipose tissue, they are reesterified for storage as triacylglycerols.

FIGURE DEPICTING :- Processing of dietary lipids


This first step is catalyzed by three isozymes of acyl-CoA dehydrogenase, each specific for a range of fatty-acyl chain lengths: very long-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase (VLCAD), acting on fatty acids of 12 to 18 carbons; medium-chain (MCAD), acting on fatty acids of 4 to 14 carbons; and short-chain (SCAD), acting on fatty acids of 4 to 8 carbons. VLCAD is in the inner mitochondrial membrane; MCAD and SCAD are in the matrix.

All three isozymes are flavoproteins with tightly bound FAD as a prosthetic group. The electrons removed from the fatty acyl–CoA are transferred to FAD, and the reduced form of the dehydrogenase immediately donates its electrons to an electron carrier of the mitochondrial respiratory chain, the electron-transferring flavoprotein (ETF).

The oxidation catalyzed by an acyl-CoA dehydrogenase is analogous to succinate dehydrogenation in the citric acid cycle; in both reactions the enzyme is bound to the inner membrane, a double bond is introduced into a carboxylic acid between the α and β carbons, FAD is the electron acceptor, and electrons from the reaction ultimately enter the respiratory chain and pass to O2 , with the concomitant synthesis of about 1.5 ATP molecules per electron pair.

In the second step of the β-oxidation cycle, water is added to the double bond of the trans-Δ 2 -enoyl-CoA to form the L stereoisomer of βhydroxyacyl-CoA (3-hydroxyacyl-CoA). This reaction, catalyzed by enoylCoA hydratase, is formally analogous to the fumarase reaction in the citric acid cycle, in which H2O adds across an α-β double bond.

In the third step, L-β-hydroxyacyl-CoA is dehydrogenated to form βketoacyl-CoA, by the action of β-hydroxyacyl-CoA dehydrogenase; NAD+ is the electron acceptor. This enzyme is absolutely specific for the L stereoisomer of hydroxyacyl-CoA. The NADH formed in the reaction donates its electrons to NADH dehydrogenase, an electron carrier of the respiratory chain, and ATP is formed from ADP as the electrons pass to O2 . The reaction catalyzed by β-hydroxyacyl-CoA dehydrogenase is closely analogous to the malate dehydrogenase reaction of the citric acid cycle.

The fourth and last step of the β-oxidation cycle is catalyzed by acyl-CoA acetyltransferase, more commonly called thiolase, which promotes reaction of β-ketoacyl-CoA with a molecule of free coenzyme A to split off the carboxyl-terminal two-carbon fragment of the original fatty acid as acetylCoA. The other product is the coenzyme A thioester of the fatty acid, now shortened by two carbon atoms. This reaction is called thiolysis, by analogy with the process of hydrolysis, because the β-ketoacyl-CoA is cleaved by reaction with the thiol group of coenzyme A. The thiolase reaction is a reverse Claisen condensation.

The last three steps of this four-step sequence are catalyzed by either of two sets of enzymes, with the enzymes employed depending on the length of the fatty acyl chain. For fatty acyl chains of 12 or more carbons, the reactions are catalyzed by a multienzyme complex associated with the inner mitochondrial membrane, the trifunctional protein (TFP). TFP is a heterooctamer of α4β4 subunits.

Each α subunit contains two activities, the enoyl-CoA hydratase and the β-hydroxyacyl-CoA dehydrogenase; the β subunits contain the thiolase activity. This tight association of three enzymes may allow efficient substrate channeling from one active site to the next, without diffusion of the intermediates away from the enzyme surface. When TFP has shortened the fatty acyl chain to 12 or fewer carbons, further oxidations are catalyzed by a set of four soluble enzymes in the matrix.

FIGURE DEPICTING Beta oxidation pathway
FIGURE DEPICTING :- Beta oxidation pathway

The Four β-Oxidation Steps Are Repeated to Yield Acetyl-CoA and ATP In one pass through the β-oxidation sequence, one molecule of acetyl-CoA, two pairs of electrons, and four protons (H+ ) are removed from the longchain fatty acyl–CoA, shortening it by two carbon atoms.

Following removal of one acetyl-CoA unit from palmitoyl-CoA, the coenzyme A thioester of the shortened fatty acid (now the 14-carbon myristate) remains. The myristoyl-CoA can now go through another set of four β-oxidation reactions, exactly analogous to the first, to yield a second molecule of acetyl-CoA and lauroyl-CoA, the coenzyme A thioester of the 12-carbon laurate. Altogether, seven passes through the β-oxidation sequence are required to oxidize one molecule of palmitoyl-CoA to eight molecules of acetyl-CoA. The overall equation is



Each molecule of FADH2 formed during oxidation of the fatty acid donates a pair of electrons to ETF of the respiratory chain, and about 1.5 molecules of ATP are generated during the ensuing transfer of each electron pair to O2 . Similarly, each molecule of NADH formed delivers a pair of electrons to the mitochondrial NADH dehydrogenase, and the subsequent transfer of each pair of electrons to O2 results in formation of about 2.5 molecules of ATP.

Thus four molecules of ATP are formed for each two-carbon unit removed in one pass through the sequence. Note that water is also produced in this process. Each pair of electrons transferred from NADH or FADH2 to O2 yields one H2O, referred to as “metabolic water.” Reduction of O2 by NADH also consumes one H+ per NADH molecule: NADH + H+ + ½O2 → NAD+ + H2O.


Oleate is an abundant 18-carbon monounsaturated fatty acid with a cis double bond between C-9 and C-10 (denoted Δ 9 ). In the first step of oxidation, oleate is converted to oleoyl-CoA and, like the saturated fatty acids, enters the mitochondrial matrix via the carnitine shuttle. Oleoyl-CoA then undergoes three passes through the fatty acid oxidation cycle to yield three molecules of acetyl-CoA and the coenzyme A ester of a Δ 3 , 12-carbon unsaturated fatty acid, cis-Δ 3 -dodecenoyl-CoA. This product cannot serve as a substrate for enoyl-CoA hydratase, which acts only on trans double bonds.

The auxiliary enzyme Δ 3 ,Δ 2 -enoyl-CoA isomerase isomerizes the cis-Δ 3 -enoyl-CoA to the trans-Δ 2 -enoyl-CoA, which is converted by enoyl-CoA hydratase into the corresponding L-βhydroxyacyl-CoA (trans-Δ 2 -dodecenoyl-CoA). This intermediate is now acted upon by the remaining enzymes of β oxidation to yield acetyl-CoA and the coenzyme A ester of a 10-carbon saturated fatty acid, decanoyl-CoA. The latter undergoes four more passes through the β-oxidation pathway to yield five more molecules of acetyl-CoA. Altogether, nine acetyl-CoAs are produced from one molecule of the 18-carbon oleate.

FIGURE DEPICTING Monounsaturated fatty acid oxidation.
FIGURE DEPICTING :- Monounsaturated fatty acid oxidation

The other auxiliary enzyme (a reductase) is required for oxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids—for example, the 18-carbon linoleate, which has a cis-Δ 9 ,cis-Δ 12 configuration. Linoleoyl-CoA undergoes three passes through the β-oxidation sequence to yield three molecules of acetylCoA and the coenzyme A ester of a 12-carbon unsaturated fatty acid with a cis-Δ 3 ,cis-Δ 6 configuration. This intermediate cannot be used by the enzymes of the β-oxidation pathway: its double bonds are in the wrong position and have the wrong configuration (cis, not trans). However, the combined action of enoyl-CoA isomerase and 2,4-dienoyl-CoA reductase

FIGURE DEPICTING Oxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acid chain
FIGURE DEPICTING :- Oxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acid chain


Although most naturally occurring lipids contain fatty acids with an even number of carbon atoms, fatty acids with an odd number of carbons are common in the lipids of many plants and some marine organisms. Cattle and other ruminant animals form large amounts of the three-carbon propionate (CH3—CH2—COO− ) during fermentation of carbohydrates in the rumen. The propionate is absorbed into the blood and oxidized by the liver and other tissues.

 Long-chain odd-number fatty acids are oxidized in the same pathway as the even-number acids, beginning at the carboxyl end of the chain. However, the substrate for the last pass through the β-oxidation sequence is a fatty acyl–CoA with a five-carbon fatty acid. When this is oxidized and cleaved, the products are acetyl-CoA and propionyl-CoA. The acetyl-CoA can be oxidized in the citric acid cycle, of course, but propionyl-CoA enters a different pathway, having three enzymes.

Propionyl-CoA is first carboxylated to form the D stereoisomer of methylmalonyl-CoA  by propionyl-CoA carboxylase, which contains the cofactor biotin. In this enzymatic reaction, as in the pyruvate carboxylase reaction, CO2 (or its hydrated ion, ) is activated by attachment to biotin before its transfer to the substrate, in this case the propionate moiety. Formation of the carboxybiotin intermediate requires energy, which is provided by ATP.

The D-methylmalonyl-CoA thus formed is enzymatically epimerized to its L stereoisomer by methylmalonylCoA epimerase. The L-methylmalonyl-CoA then undergoes an intramolecular rearrangement to form succinyl-CoA, which can enter the citric acid cycle. This rearrangement is catalyzed by methyl-malonyl-CoA mutase, which requires as its coenzyme 5′-deoxyadenosylcobalamin, or coenzyme B12 , which is derived from vitamin B12 (cobalamin).

FIGURE DEPICTING Oxidation of propionyl-CoA
FIGURE DEPICTING :- Oxidation of propionyl-CoA


  • The fatty acids of triacylglycerols furnish a large fraction of the oxidative energy in animals. Dietary triacylglycerols are emulsified in the small intestine by bile salts, hydrolyzed by intestinal lipases, absorbed by intestinal epithelial cells, reconverted into triacylglycerols, then formed into chylomicrons by combination with specific apolipoproteins.
  • Chylomicrons deliver triacylglycerols to tissues, where lipoprotein lipase releases free fatty acids for entry into cells. Triacylglycerols stored in adipose tissue are mobilized by a hormone-sensitive triacylglycerol lipase. The released fatty acids bind to serum albumin and are carried in the blood to the heart, skeletal muscle, and other tissues that use fatty acids for fuel.
  • Once inside cells, fatty acids are activated at the outer mitochondrial membrane by conversion to fatty acyl–CoA thioesters. Fatty acyl–CoA that is to be oxidized enters mitochondria in three steps, via the carnitine shuttle
  • About 95% of the biologically available energy of triacylglycerols resides in their three long-chain fatty acids; only 5% is contributed by the glycerol moiety. The glycerol released by lipase action is phosphorylated by glycerol kinase (Fig. 17-4), and the resulting glycerol 3-phosphate is oxidized to dihydroxyacetone phosphate. The glycolytic enzyme triose phosphate isomerase converts this compound to glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate, which is oxidized via glycolysis.


  • Lehninger  principles of biochemistry seventh edition By  David L. Nelson and Michael M. Cox
  • voets and voets biochemistry 4th edition
  • Life sciences  fundamental and practices sixth edition, pathfinder publication By Pranav Kumar and Usha Mina
  • Essential cell biology (fourth edition) by ALBERTS, BRAY, HOPKIN, JOHNSON, LEWIS, RAFF, ROBERTS, WALTER

:- Article Written By Zahra Madraswala


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