Enzymes are chemical catalysts that accelerate chemical reactions at physiological temperatures by lowering their activation energy. Enzymes are usually proteins consisting of one or more polypeptide chains. Enzymes have an active site that provides a unique chemical environment, comprised of certain amino acid R groups (residues). This unique environment is perfectly suited to convert particular chemical reactants for that enzyme, scientists call substrates, into unstable intermediates that they call transition states. Enzymes and substrates bind with an induced fit, which means that enzymes undergo slight conformational adjustments upon substrate contact, leading to full, optimal binding. Enzymes bind to substrates and catalyze reactions in four different ways: bringing substrates together in an optimal orientation, compromising the bond structures of substrates so that bonds can break down more easily, providing optimal environmental conditions for a reaction to occur, or participating directly in their chemical reaction by forming transient covalent bonds with the substrates.
Enzyme action must be regulated so that in a given cell at a given time, the desired reactions catalyze and the undesired reactions are not. Enzymes are regulated by cellular conditions, such as temperature and pH. They are also regulated through their location within a cell, sometimes compartmentalized so that they can only catalyze reactions under certain circumstances. Enzyme inhibition and activation via other molecules are other important ways that enzymes are regulated. Inhibitors can act competitively, noncompetitively, or allosterically. Noncompetitive inhibitors are usually allosteric. Activators can also enhance enzyme function allosterically. The most common method by which cells regulate the enzymes in metabolic pathways is through feedback inhibition. During feedback inhibition, metabolic pathway products serve as inhibitors (usually allosteric) of one or more of the enzymes (usually the first committed enzyme of the pathway) involved in the pathway that produces them.