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What is Enzyme Inhibition?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Enzyme inhibition is a reaction between a molecule and an enzyme that blocks the action of the enzyme, either temporarily or permanently, depending on the type of enzyme inhibitor involved. This process occurs in the natural world all the time, and it has a number of applications for humans, including in the formulation of pharmaceuticals and the development of certain products. There are several types of enzyme inhibition involving different types of molecules and processes.

Non-specific enzyme inhibition involves exposure to a molecule not specifically targeting an enzyme that will still have an inhibitory effect. For example, many proteins break down in response to alcohol exposure, and introducing alcohol to an organism can inhibit the activities of a number of enzymes. Acids have similar effects. Likewise, heat tends to denature enzymes, pulling the protein strands apart and rendering them ineffective; this is why meat softens with cooking, as the proteins in the meat are denatured and start to break down.

With specific enzyme inhibition, a molecule interacts directly with the proteins in the enzyme. Irreversible enzyme inhibitors have the ability to permanently change the structure of the protein, and the process cannot be undone. Reversible enzyme inhibition can temporarily block the action of an enzyme but will not be permanent in nature. This process can occur in a number of ways, including through competitive inhibition, where the molecule is similar to another molecule that interacts with the enzyme, and it competes for receptor sites, making the enzyme less active or rendering it useless by preventing it from latching onto the molecule it is designed to work with.

Pharmaceutical companies use this process to their advantage in the development of medications. Most therapeutic drugs work via enzyme inhibition. When the patient takes the medication and the molecules are released in the body, they interact with enzymes to stop harmful processes like uncontrolled inflammation. In laboratories, researchers are constantly working with new compounds to see if they have potential uses and to tease out their contents so they can be understood.

Enzyme inhibition can have other applications. Pest control often relies on this process, by exposing unwanted pests to chemicals that will disrupt chemical processes inside their bodies. Likewise, many herbicides interfere with the internal biology of target plants to prevent them from growing or kill them off. Inhibition of enzymes can also be used in the manufacture of products from food stabilizers to chemical water treatments.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon995542 — On May 08, 2016

Describe and explain the strategies that can be employed to develop effective inhibitors for enzymatic reactions.

By burcidi — On Jun 23, 2011

@burcinc-- E stands for enzyme and S stands for substrate. When a substrate (molecule which the enzyme breaks down) attaches to an enzyme, it is called the enzyme-substrate complex, or ES.

So you know that competitive inhibition is when an inhibitor binds itself to the same place on both the enzyme (E) and the substrate (S) and noncompetitive inhibition is when the inhibitor binds to the enzyme (E) and also the enzyme-substrate complex (ES), right?

Uncompetitive inhibition is when the inhibitor binds only to the enzyme-substrate complex (ES) and anywhere it wants on it.

The names actually give you a hint about what is going on. In the first one, competitive inhibition, there is a competition both between the enzymes and the substrates for the inhibitor. Because the inhibitor will only bind to a free enzyme and a substrate that has the same shape as the inhibitor.

When it is noncompetitive, the inhibitor is fine with binding to a free or "unfree" enzyme (enzyme with a molecule already binded to it), so there is no competition in that sense. Although the substrates must still have the same shape as the inhibitor.

When it is uncompetitive, there is absolutely no competition whatsoever. The substrate can be in any shape for the inhibitor to bind to it and it will directly go for the complex and not require any free enzymes.

I think this will help you to understand a little better. Good luck!

By burcinc — On Jun 23, 2011

I know about competitive inhibition and a little bit about noncompetitive inhibition. But there is also a term, uncompetitive inhibition. What does uncompetitive inhibition mean and what doe E, S and ES stand for?

If I understand this, I can do my assignment, please help!

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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