What Is a Flavoprotein?

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  • Written By: Megan Shoop
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2019
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A flavoprotein is one of many proteins present in human and animal cellular structure. They contain a specific nucleic acid called riboflavin and are necessary for a number of cellular functions, such as ridding the cells of waste. When examined under a microscope, a flavoprotein is usually yellow, which is where the prefix in the word comes from — flavus translates to 'yellow' in Latin. The other part of the term, protein, refers to the flavoprotein's ability to perform specific and necessary biological functions.

In addition to ridding cells of waste, a flavoprotein also allows nutrients into a cell through its wall. This process of moving useful items into the cell and waste items out is called respiration. It is a continuous process, very similar to breathing, during which necessary oxygen enters the lungs, is processed, and exits the lungs as carbon dioxide. In the case of cellular function, a flavoprotein lets nutrients enter a cell, helps the cell process them, and pushes waste back through the cell wall.


Scientists classify flavoproteins as an enzyme, or a catalyst, for cell functions. Enzymes are very stable molecular structures that hold together easily and help perform necessary chemical reactions. They are called catalysts because they stimulate these reactions quickly and can perform the same function many times without breaking down. Catalysts stimulate the beginning of a reaction, similar to a small match starting a larger bonfire. The match is only involved in the first spark of the fire, which usually needs no further stimulation to spread.

The nucleic acid that allows a flavoprotein to function is riboflavin, a nutrient formed when the body absorbs vitamin B12. Riboflavin restores the nutrients in flavoprotein, making vitamin B12 essential to healthy cell function. Without vitamin B12, cell respiration can break down, leaving waste to collect inside cells. In extreme cases, this can kill an organism. Most cases of B12 deficiency are minor, however, and may cause symptoms like fatigue and a general feeling of heaviness.

Those concerned about getting enough B12 into their diets should typically consume a healthy amount of dairy products and mushrooms, as well as all kinds of beans, kale, and spinach. About one serving each day of any of these foods should keep one’s flavoproteins healthy and functioning. Individuals having difficulty consuming enough B12, such as lactose-intolerant people, may want to try taking vitamin supplements. One can usually find B12 supplements in most grocery or discount stores, both sold individually and as part of multivitamin mixes. Those interested in taking supplements should always consult their doctors for information regarding proper dosage amounts.


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