that accelerate, or catalyze
, chemical reactions
. In these reactions, the molecules at the beginning of the process are called substrates
, and the enzyme converts these into different molecules, the products. Almost all processes in the cell
need enzymes in order to occur at significant rates. Since enzymes are extremely selective for their substrates and speed up only a few reactions from among many possibilities, the set of enzymes made in a cell determines which metabolic pathways
occur in that cell.
Enzymes are known to catalyze about 4,000 reactions. However, not all biological catalysts are proteins, since some RNA molecules called ribozymes can also catalyze reactions. Enzymes are usually named according to the reaction they catalyze. Typically the suffix -ase is added to the name of the substrate (e.g., lactase is the enzyme that cleaves lactose) or the type of reaction (e.g., DNA polymerase forms DNA polymers).
Like all catalysts, enzymes work by providing an alternative path of lower activation energy for a reaction and dramatically accelerating its rate. Some enzymes can make their conversion of substrate to product occur many millions of times faster. For example, the reaction catalysed by orotidine 5'-phosphate decarboxylase will consume half of its substrate in 78 million years if no enzyme is present. However, when the decarboxylase is added, the same process takes just 25 milliseconds. Chemically, enzymes are like any catalyst and are not consumed in chemical reactions, nor do they alter the equilibrium of a reaction. However, enzymes do differ from most other catalysts by being much more specific.
Enzyme activity can be affected by other molecules. Inhibitors are molecules that decrease enzyme activity, and activators are molecules that increase activity. Drugs and poisons are often enzyme inhibitors.
Some enzymes are used commercially, for example, in the synthesis of antibiotics. In addition, some household cleaning products use enzymes to speed up chemical reactions (e.g., enzymes in biological washing powders break down protein or fat stains on clothes).