Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Monday's Molecule #37 is the heme group found in myoglobin and hemoglobin. The heme group consists of a ring structure, called a tetrapyrrole ring system, complexed to a central iron atom. There are many different kinds of these tetrapyrrole structures in cells. They are distinguished by slight changes in the chemistry of the ring system. This particular structure (left) is called protoporphyrin IX. The structure was originally determined by Hans Fischer [Nobel Laureate: Hans Fischer],
The red color of blood is due to the presence of the heme group, which absorbs visible light. Note that the pyrrole rings are linked by methene bridges (-CH=) to create a conjugated double bond system where electrons can be shared all across the ring. Not only does this mean that these rings can absorb photons, it also means that they can accommodate additional electrons without too much trouble.
This is why there are many heme proteins that are involved in oxidation-reduction reactions (reactions that transfer electrons from one substrate to another). For example, cytochrome c has a similar kind of heme group (right). Cytochrome c is a major player in membrane associated electron transport systems in bacteria and mitochondria and in photosynthesis.
Heme type molecules are always tightly bound to proteins. Such molecules are called prosthetic groups and there are two types. The heme in hemoglobin is bound by many weak interactions such as hydrogen bonds and van der Waals interactions. The heme in cytochrome c is an example of a covalently bound prosthetic group. It is attached to its protein by bonds between the edge of the porphyrin ring and cysteine (Cys) side chains in the protein.
Chlorophyll (left) is another type of tetrapyrrole ring molecule but it differs from most others because the central chelated metal ion is magnesium (Mg) instead of iron. Chlorophyll molecules absorb light very efficiently and that's why they play such an important role in photosynthesis. Photosynthesizing organisms—bacteria, algae, plants—have dozens (or hundreds) of chlorohyll molecules packed in their membranes.
©Laurence A. Moran and Pearson Prentice Hall 2007