Dissociation of enzyme oligomers: a mechanism for allosteric regulation

Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol. 1994;29(2):125-63. doi: 10.3109/10409239409086799.


Most enzymes exist as oligomers or polymers, and a significant subset of these (perhaps 15% of all enzymes) can reversibly dissociate and reassociate in response to an effector ligand. Such a change in subunit assembly usually is accompanied by a change in enzyme activity, providing a mechanism for regulation. Two models are described for a physical mechanism, leading to a change in activity: (1) catalytic activity depends on subunit conformation, which is modulated by subunit dissociation; and (2) catalytic or regulatory sites are located at subunit interfaces and are disrupted by subunit dissociation. Examples of such enzymes show that both catalytic sites and regulatory sites occur at the junction of 2 subunits. In addition, for 9 enzymes, kinetic studies supported the existence of a separate regulatory site with significantly different affinity for the binding of either a substrate or a product of that enzyme. Over 40 dissociating enzymes are described from 3 major metabolic areas: carbohydrate metabolism, nucleotide metabolism, and amino acid metabolism. Important variables that influence enzyme dissociation include: enzyme concentration, ligand concentration, other cellular proteins, pH, and temperature. All these variables can be readily manipulated in vitro, but normally only the first two are physiological variables. Seven of these enzymes are most active as the dissociated monomer, the others as oligomers, emphasizing the importance of a regulated equilibrium between 2 or more conformational states. Experiments to test whether enzyme dissociation occurs in vivo showed this to be the case in 6 out of 7 studies, with 4 different enzymes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Regulation*
  • Enzymes / metabolism*
  • Models, Chemical
  • Protein Conformation


  • Enzymes