Coenzymes, Cofactors & Prosthetic Groups: Function and Interactions

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  • 0:06 Enzyme Partners
  • 1:05 Cofactors
  • 1:26 Coenzymes
  • 2:19 Prosthetic Groups
  • 3:07 Examples of Enzyme Partners
  • 4:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kristin Klucevsek

Kristin has taught college Biology courses and has her doctorate in Biology.

Some enzymes require helpers to recognize a substrate or complete a reaction. These helpers include cofactors, coenzymes, and prosthetic groups, which are required for some enzymes' functions.

Enzyme Partners

Sometimes we get by with a little help from our friends. There are some tasks, like going to the store for groceries, that are perfectly easy to do by yourself. Some tasks, like moving a large piece of furniture into your house and up a few flights of stairs - well, friends are good to have in situations like this, particularly strong ones who will lift anything for some free pizza.

We all rely on other people at certain times in our lives, so we shouldn't be surprised that the same thing can happen in a biological process. For example, enzymes benefit from a few close friends, too. Remember that enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. In other lessons, we've learned how they functioned. In this lesson, we'll learn about who functions with them, or rather, who helps them catalyze these reactions. Some enzymes need helpers or partners, and some don't. There are different types of enzyme helpers, too, with different enzymes requiring different helpers or different kinds of friends.


The first type of enzyme partner is a group called cofactors, or molecules that increase the rate of reaction or are required for enzyme function. Cofactors are not proteins but rather help proteins, such as enzymes, although they can also help non-enzyme proteins as well. Examples of cofactors include metal ions like iron and zinc.

Examples of cofactors that assist proteins
Cofactor Examples


A specific type of cofactor, coenzymes, are organic molecules that bind to enzymes and help them function. The key here is that they're organic. 'Organic' does not mean you'll find them in a special aisle in the grocery store. Rather, organic molecules are simply molecules that contain carbon. Don't let the name 'coenzymes' fool you, either; coenzymes are not really enzymes. As the prefix 'co-' suggests, they work with enzymes. Many coenzymes are derived from vitamins.

These molecules often sit at the active site of an enzyme and aid in recognizing, attracting, or repulsing a substrate or product. Remember that a substrate is the molecule upon which an enzyme catalyzes a reaction. Coenzymes can also shuttle chemical groups from one enzyme to another enzyme. Coenzymes bind loosely to enzymes, while another group of cofactors do not.

Coenzymes bind loosely to the active site of enzymes.
image of coenzyme

Prosthetic Groups

Prosthetic groups are cofactors that bind tightly to proteins or enzymes. As if holding on for dear life, they are not easily removed. They can be organic or metal ions and are often attached to proteins by a covalent bond. The same cofactors can bind multiple different types of enzymes and may bind some enzymes loosely, as a coenzyme, and others tightly, as a prosthetic group. Some cofactors may always tightly bind their enzymes. It's important to note, though, that these prosthetic groups can also bind to proteins other than enzymes.

Prosthetic groups can be either organic or metal ions.
Prosthetic Groups

An enzyme that requires a helper group really isn't complete without it. Once attached, it's called a holoenzyme. A holoenzyme is an enzyme with any metal ions or coenzymes attached to it that is now ready to catalyze a reaction.

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