Coenzyme A (CoA) and acyl carrier protein (ACP) contain 4'-phosphopantetheine moieties that are metabolically derived from the vitamin pantothenate. The utilization of metabolites in the biosynthetic pathway during growth was investigated by using an Escherichia coli beta-alanine auxotroph to specifically and uniformly label the pathway intermediates. Pantothenate and 4'-phosphopantetheine were the two intermediates detected in the highest concentration, both intracellularly and extracellularly. The specific cellular content of CoA and ACP was not constant during growth of strain SJ16 (panD) on 4 microM beta-[3-3H]alanine, and alterations in the utilization of 4'-phosphopantetheine and pantothenate correlated with the observed fluctuations of the intracellular pool sizes of CoA and ACP. Double-label experiments indicated that extracellular 4'-phosphopantetheine was derived from the degradation of ACP, and the extent that this intermediate was utilized by 4'-phosphopantetheine adenylyltransferase exerted control over the degradative aspect of the pathway. Control over the biosynthetic aspect of the biochemical pathway was exerted at the level of pantothenate utilization by pantothenate kinase. Reduction in the specific cellular content of CoA and ACP by 4'-phosphopantetheine excretion was irreversible since, in contrast to pantothenate, strain SJ16 was unable to assimilate exogenous 4'-phosphopantetheine into CoA or ACP.