This article is about the enzyme that precedes the citric acid cycle. For the enzyme that forms acetaldehyde, see pyruvate decarboxylase.
pyruvate dehydrogenase (acetyl-transferring)
Crystallographic structure of pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH). PH is a six domain dimer with α (blue), α’ (yellow), β (red), and β’ (teal) regions denoted by the different colors. Thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP) is shown in grey ball and stick form, two magnesium ions in purple undergoing metal ligation with the TPP, and two potassium ions in orange.
The ylide resonance form of thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP) begins by attacking the electrophilic ketone of pyruvate. The intermediate β-alkoxide then decarboxylates and the resulting enol is deprotonated on the carbon atom to form a stabilized 1,3-dipole involving a positively charged nitrogen atom of the thiamine heterocycle. This 1,3-dipole undergoes a reductive acetylation with lipoamide-E2.
Biochemical and structural data for E1 revealed a mechanism of activation of TPP cofactor by forming the conserved hydrogen bond with glutamate residue (Glu59 in human E1) and by imposing a V-conformation that brings the N4’ atom of the aminopyrimidine to intramolecular hydrogen bonding with the thiazolium C2 atom. This unique combination of contacts and conformations of TPP leads to formation of the reactive C2-carbanion, eventually. After the cofactor TPP decarboxylates pyruvate, the acetyl portion becomes a hydroxyethyl derivative covalently attached to TPP.
E1 is a multimeric protein. Mammalian E1s, including human E1, are tetrameric, composed of two α- and two β- subunits. Some bacterial E1s, including E1 from Escherichia coli, are composed of two similar subunits, each being as large as the sum of molecular masses of α- and β- subunits.
Pyruvate dehydrogenase E1 subunit of E. coli. Colors represent different chains. Structure determined by Arjunan et al. Biochemistry 2002. Created with PyMol.
E1 has two catalytic sites, each providing thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP) and magnesium ion as cofactors. The α- subunit binds magnesium ion and pyrophosphate fragment while the β-subunit binds pyrimidine fragment of TPP, forming together a catalytic site at the interface of subunits. 
The active site for pyruvate dehydrogenase (image created from PDB1NI4) holds TPP through metal ligation to a magnesium ion (purple sphere) and through hydrogen bonding to amino acids. While over 20 amino acids can be found in the active site, amino acids Tyr 89, Arg 90, Gly 136, Val 138, Asp 167, Gly 168, Ala 169, Asn, 196, and His 263 actually participate in hydrogen bonding to hold TPP and pyruvate (not shown here) in the active site. The amino acids are shown as wires, and the TPP is in ball and stick form. The active site also aids in the transfer of the acyl on the TPP to a lipoamide waiting on E2.
Pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) deficiency is a congenital degenerative metabolic disease resulting from a mutation of the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDC) located on the X chromosome. While defects have been identified in all 3 enzymes of the complex, the E1-α subunit is predominantly the culprit. Malfunction of the citric acid cycle due to PDH deficiency deprives the body of energy and leads to an abnormal buildup of lactate. PDH deficiency is a common cause of lactic acidosis in newborns and often presents with severe lethargy, poor feeding, tachypnea, and cases of death have occurred.
In bacteria, a form of pyruvate dehydrogenase (also called pyruvate oxidase, EC 184.108.40.206) exists that links the oxidation of pyruvate into acetate and carbon dioxide to the reduction of ferrocytochrome. In E. coli this enzyme is encoded by the pox B gene and the protein has a flavin cofactor. This enzyme increases the efficiency of growth of E. coli under aerobic conditions.
^ abcdePDB1ni4; Ciszak EM, Korotchkina LG, Dominiak PM, Sidhu S, Patel MS (June 2003). "Structural basis for flip-flop action of thiamin pyrophosphate-dependent enzymes revealed by human pyruvate dehydrogenase". J. Biol. Chem.278 (23): 21240–6. doi:10.1074/jbc.M300339200. PMID12651851.
^ abMolecular graphics images were produced using the UCSF Chimera package from the Resource for Biocomputing, Visualization, and Informatics at the University of California, San Francisco; Pettersen EF, Goddard TD, Huang CC, Couch GS, Greenblatt DM, Meng EC, Ferrin TE (October 2004). "UCSF Chimera—a visualization system for exploratory research and analysis". J Comput Chem25 (13): 1605–12. doi:10.1002/jcc.20084. PMID15264254.