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Prosthetic Group: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:00 What Is a Prosthetic Group?
  • 0:46 Functions of a…
  • 1:44 Role in Cellular Function
  • 2:16 Examples of Prosthetic Groups
  • 4:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Darla Reed

Darla has taught undergraduate Enzyme Kinetics and has a doctorate in Basic Medical Science

This lesson explains what a prosthetic group is, what it does and how it relates to cellular components. It also delves into a few examples of prosthetic groups.

What Is a Prosthetic Group?

People without the typical number of limbs (arms and/or legs) often use prosthetics, which are attachments to the main body. What someone can do with a prosthetic varies by the type of device. For example, a person missing a leg might use a prosthetic to help him walk. A person with a prosthetic arm can give a handshake.

Cells also use prosthetics to help them accomplish tasks. Prosthetic groups are non-peptide (non-protein) compounds that mostly attach to proteins and assist them in different ways. They can be inorganic (like metals) or organic (carbon-containing) and bind tightly to their target. Prosthetic groups can bind via covalent (electron-sharing) or non-covalent bonds.

Functions of a Prosthetic Group

Just as prosthetic limbs can help people do a variety of things like walk, run, chop onions or pick up their shoes, prosthetic groups have many functions. They mainly assist proteins, though they are not limited to just helping proteins. Prosthetic groups can act as scaffolding or a tie to help proteins fold in to a 3-D structure (their conformation).

They also can help proteins bind other cellular components or act as carriers of electrons or molecules (protons (H+) and oxygen) to assist a cell in moving electrons or molecules from one place to another. By attaching to a specific group of proteins called enzymes, prosthetic groups can make enzymes active (turn them on) or increase their activity. Prosthetic groups that attach to enzymes are often called cofactors or coenzymes because they help the enzyme to function. An enzyme with a prosthetic group is a holoenzyme, while any protein with a prosthetic group is generally referred to as a holoprotein.

Role in Cellular Function

How big a role do these prosthetic groups play in the cellular orchestra? Prosthetic groups are important for electron transport in cellular/mitochondrial respiration; that's where the cell makes ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is the energy that cells need to keep functioning and keep you alive. They are also involved in photosynthesis, which is an important process to keep plants alive. In addition, prosthetic groups are players in the formation of fatty acids, which are used in a variety of cellular processes, including respiration.

Examples of Prosthetic Groups

Ever heard of hemoglobin? It carries oxygen in your blood; without it, you wouldn't have any way to move oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Since your body tissues require oxygen for respiration, without an oxygen carrier, you're, well, a goner. So, how does hemoglobin carry oxygen?

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