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acetyl group

Wednesday 30 July 2008

In organic chemistry, acetyl (ethanoyl), is a functional group, the acyl of acetic acid, with chemical formula -COCH3. It is sometimes abbreviated as Ac (not to be confused with the element actinium).

The acetyl radical contains a methyl group single-bonded to a carbonyl. The carbon of the carbonyl has a lone electron available, with which it forms a chemical bond to the remainder R of the molecule.

The acetyl radical is a component of many organic compounds, including the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and acetyl-CoA, and the analgesics acetaminophen and acetylsalicylic acid (better known as aspirin).


The introduction of an acetyl group into a molecule is called acetylation (or ethanoylation).

In biological organisms, acetyl groups are commonly transferred bound to Coenzyme A (CoA), in the form of acetyl-CoA. Acetyl-CoA is an important intermediate both in the biological synthesis and in the breakdown of many organic molecules.

Acetyl groups are also frequently added to histones and other proteins modifying their properties.

For example, on the DNA level, histone acetylation by histone acetyltransferases (HATs) causes an expansion of chromatin architecture allowing for genetic transcription to take place.

Conversely, removal of the acetyl group by histone deacetylases (HDACs) condenses DNA structure, thereby preventing transcription.

Chemical acetylation can be achieved using a variety of methods, most commonly by the use of acetic anhydride or acetyl chloride in the presence of a tertiary or aromatic amine base.