For aerobic respiration to take place within the mitochondria, the final product of glycolysis, pyruvate is transported from the cytoplasm into the mitochondria.
The crucial events in aerobic respiration are:
- The complete oxidation of pyruvate by the stepwise removal of all the hydrogen atoms, leaving three molecules of CO2.
- The passing on of the electrons removed as part of the hydrogen atoms to molecular O2 with simultaneous synthesis of ATP.
What is interesting to note is that the first process takes place in the matrix of the mitochondria while the second process is located on the inner membrane of the mitochondria. Pyruvate, which is formed by the glycolytic catabolism of carbohydrates in the cytosol, after it enters mitochondrial matrix undergoes oxidative decarboxylation by a complex set of reactions catalysed by pyruvic dehydrogenase.
The reactions catalysed by pyruvic dehydrogenase require the participation of several coenzymes, including NAD+ and Coenzyme A.
During this process, two molecules of NADH are produced from the metabolism of two molecules of pyruvic acid (produced from one glucose molecule during glycolysis). The acetyl CoA then enters a cyclic pathway, tricarboxylic acid cycle, more commonly called as Krebs’ cycle after the scientist Hans Krebs who first elucidated it.