The C4 pathway is designed to efficiently fix CO2 at low concentrations and plants that use this pathway are known as C4 plants. These plants fix CO2 into a four carbon compound (C4) called oxaloacetate. This occurs in cells called mesophyll cells.
1. CO2 is fixed to a three-carbon compound called phosphoenolpyruvate to produce the four-carbon compound oxaloacetate. The enzyme catalyzing this reaction, PEP carboxylase, fixes CO2 very efficiently so the C4 plants don't need to to have their stomata open as much. The oxaloacetate is then converted to another four-carbon compound called malate in a step requiring the reducing power of NADPH.
3. The malate then exits the mesophyll cells and enters the chloroplasts of specialized cells called bundle sheath cells. Here the four-carbon malate is decarboxylated to produce CO2, a three-carbon compound called pyruvate, and NADPH. The CO2 combines with ribulose bisphosphate and goes through the Calvin cycle.
4. The pyruvate re-enters the mesophyll cells, reacts with ATP, and is converted back to phosphoenolpyruvate, the starting compound of the C4 cycle.