Modular architecture of metabolic pathways revealed by conserved sequences of reactions

J Chem Inf Model. 2013 Mar 25;53(3):613-22. doi: 10.1021/ci3005379. Epub 2013 Feb 19.


The metabolic network is both a network of chemical reactions and a network of enzymes that catalyze reactions. Toward better understanding of this duality in the evolution of the metabolic network, we developed a method to extract conserved sequences of reactions called reaction modules from the analysis of chemical compound structure transformation patterns in all known metabolic pathways stored in the KEGG PATHWAY database. The extracted reaction modules are repeatedly used as if they are building blocks of the metabolic network and contain chemical logic of organic reactions. Furthermore, the reaction modules often correspond to traditional pathway modules defined as sets of enzymes in the KEGG MODULE database and sometimes to operon-like gene clusters in prokaryotic genomes. We identified well-conserved, possibly ancient, reaction modules involving 2-oxocarboxylic acids. The chain extension module that appears as the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) reaction sequence in the TCA cycle is now shown to be used in other pathways together with different types of modification modules. We also identified reaction modules and their connection patterns for aromatic ring cleavages in microbial biodegradation pathways, which are most characteristic in terms of both distinct reaction sequences and distinct gene clusters. The modular architecture of biodegradation modules will have a potential for predicting degradation pathways of xenobiotic compounds. The collection of these and many other reaction modules is made available as part of the KEGG database.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biotransformation
  • Citric Acid Cycle / genetics
  • Conserved Sequence*
  • Databases, Genetic
  • Enzymes / chemistry
  • Fatty Acids / chemical synthesis
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / genetics*
  • Multigene Family
  • Oxidation-Reduction


  • Enzymes
  • Fatty Acids