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Biochemistry Of Fatty Acid Oxidation

Discover the incredible secrets behind fatty acid oxidation and its impact on your body's metabolism, energy production, and overall health.

USMLE Guide: Biochemistry of Fatty Acid Oxidation


The process of fatty acid oxidation plays a crucial role in energy production within the human body. It involves the breakdown of fatty acids into acetyl-CoA, which can further enter the citric acid cycle (Krebs cycle) for ATP generation. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the biochemistry of fatty acid oxidation, focusing on key enzymes, regulation, and important clinical correlations.

Key Enzymes Involved

  1. Fatty Acid Activation: Fatty acids are first activated in the cytoplasm by the enzyme fatty acyl-CoA synthetase. This reaction utilizes ATP and forms fatty acyl-CoA.
  2. Carnitine Shuttle: Long-chain fatty acyl-CoA cannot directly enter the mitochondria. It requires carnitine, which is facilitated by the enzyme carnitine palmitoyltransferase I (CPT-I). This enzyme transfers the fatty acyl group from CoA to carnitine, forming fatty acyl-carnitine.
  3. Mitochondrial Transport: The fatty acyl-carnitine is transported across the mitochondrial membrane by the enzyme carnitine-acylcarnitine translocase (CACT).
  4. Fatty Acid Oxidation: Once inside the mitochondrial matrix, the fatty acyl-carnitine is converted back to fatty acyl-CoA by the enzyme carnitine palmitoyltransferase II (CPT-II).
  5. Beta-Oxidation: The fatty acyl-CoA undergoes a series of oxidation steps, known as beta-oxidation, to produce acetyl-CoA. This process involves four key enzymes: acyl-CoA dehydrogenase, enoyl-CoA hydratase, 3-hydroxyacyl-CoA dehydrogenase, and thiolase.

Regulation of Fatty Acid Oxidation

  1. CPT-I Regulation: Malonyl-CoA, an intermediate of fatty acid synthesis, inhibits CPT-I. This mechanism prevents simultaneous fatty acid synthesis and oxidation.
  2. Enzyme Activation: Fatty acid oxidation is enhanced by increased levels of NAD+ and CoA-SH. These cofactors activate the enzymes involved in the beta-oxidation pathway.
  3. Hormonal Regulation: Hormones such as glucagon and epinephrine activate protein kinase A (PKA), which phosphorylates and inhibits acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACC). This inhibition reduces malonyl-CoA levels, thereby promoting fatty acid oxidation.

Clinical Correlations

  1. Ketogenesis: During prolonged fasting or in diabetic ketoacidosis, increased fatty acid oxidation leads to increased acetyl-CoA production. This excess acetyl-CoA is diverted towards ketone body synthesis, resulting in ketogenesis.
  2. Carnitine Deficiency: Deficiency in carnitine or any of the enzymes involved in the carnitine shuttle can impair fatty acid oxidation, leading to muscle weakness, hypoketotic hypoglycemia, and cardiomyopathy.
  3. Medium-Chain Acyl-CoA Dehydrogenase Deficiency (MCAD): MCAD deficiency is an autosomal recessive disorder that impairs beta-oxidation of medium-chain fatty acids. It presents with hypoketotic hypoglycemia, vomiting, lethargy, and hepatomegaly.


Understanding the biochemistry of fatty acid oxidation is essential for medical professionals, as it provides insights into energy metabolism and various clinical conditions. Mastery of the key enzymes, regulation, and clinical correlations discussed in this guide will help students excel in the USMLE examination and clinical practice.

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