Catabolic pathways effect the transformation of food materials into interconvertible intermediates. Anabolic pathways, on the other hand, are sequences of enzyme-catalyzed reactions in which the component building blocks of large molecules, or macromolecules (e.g., proteins, carbohydrates, and fats), are constructed from the same intermediates. Thus, catabolic routes have clearly defined beginnings but no unambiguously identifiable end products; anabolic routes, on the other hand, lead to clearly distinguishable end products from diffuse beginnings.
The two types of pathway are linked through reactions of phosphate transfer, involving ADP, AMP, and ATP, and also through electron transfers, which enable reducing equivalents (i.e., hydrogen atoms or electrons), which have been released during catabolic reactions, to be utilized for biosynthesis. But, although catabolic and anabolic pathways are closely linked, and although the overall effect of one type of route is obviously the opposite of the other, they have few steps in common. The anabolic pathway for the synthesis of a particular molecule generally starts from intermediate compounds quite different from those produced as a result of catabolism of that molecule; for example, microorganisms catabolize aromatic (i.e., containing a ring, or cyclic, structure) amino acids to acetyl coenzyme A and an intermediate compound of the TCA cycle.
The biosynthesis of these amino acids, however, starts with a compound derived from pyruvate and an intermediate compound of the metabolism of pentose (a general name for sugars with five carbon atoms). Similarly, histidine is synthesized from a pentose sugar but is catabolized to α-oxoglutarate.
Even in cases in which a product of catabolism is used in an anabolic pathway, differences emerge; thus, fatty acids, which are catabolized to acetyl coenzyme A, are synthesized not from acetyl coenzyme A directly but from a derivative of it, malonyl coenzyme A (see below Lipid components). Furthermore, even enzymes that catalyze apparently identical steps in catabolic and anabolic routes may exhibit different properties. In general, therefore, the way down (catabolism) is different from the way up (anabolism). These differences are important because they allow for the regulation of catabolic and anabolic processes in the cell.
In eukaryotic cells (i.e., those with a well-defined nucleus, characteristic of organisms higher than bacteria) the enzymes of catabolic and anabolic pathways are often located in different cellular compartments. This also contributes to the manner of their cellular control; for example, the formation of acetyl coenzyme A from fatty acids, referred to above, occurs in animal cells in small sausage-shaped components, or organelles, called mitochondria, which also contain the enzymes for terminal respiration and for oxidative phosphorylation. The biosynthesis of fatty acids from acetyl coenzyme A, on the other hand, occurs in the cytoplasm.