In vitro and in vivo characterization of three Cellvibrio japonicus Glycoside Hydrolase Family 5 members reveals potent xyloglucan backbone-cleaving functions

Mohamed A. Attia, Cassandra E. Nelson, Wendy A. Offen, Namrata Jain, Gideon J. Davies, Jeffrey G. Gardner, Harry Brumer

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Background: Xyloglucan (XyG) is a ubiquitous and fundamental polysaccharide of plant cell walls. Due to its structural complexity, XyG requires a combination of backbone-cleaving and sidechain-debranching enzymes for complete deconstruction into its component monosaccharides. The soil saprophyte Cellvibrio japonicus has emerged as a genetically tractable model system to study biomass saccharification, in part due to its innate capacity to utilize a wide range of plant polysaccharides for growth. Whereas the downstream debranching enzymes of the xyloglucan utilization system of C. japonicus have been functionally characterized, the requisite backbone-cleaving endo-xyloglucanases were unresolved. Results: Combined bioinformatic and transcriptomic analyses implicated three glycoside hydrolase family 5 subfamily 4 (GH5-4) members, with distinct modular organization, as potential keystone endo-xyloglucanases in C. japonicus. Detailed biochemical and enzymatic characterization of the GH5-4 modules of all three recombinant proteins confirmed particularly high specificities for the XyG polysaccharide versus a panel of other cell wall glycans, including mixed-linkage beta-glucan and cellulose. Moreover, product analysis demonstrated that all three enzymes generated XyG oligosaccharides required for subsequent saccharification by known exo-glycosidases. Crystallographic analysis of GH5D, which was the only GH5-4 member specifically and highly upregulated during growth on XyG, in free, product-complex, and active-site affinity-labelled forms revealed the molecular basis for the exquisite XyG specificity among these GH5-4 enzymes. Strikingly, exhaustive reverse-genetic analysis of all three GH5-4 members and a previously biochemically characterized GH74 member failed to reveal a growth defect, thereby indicating functional compensation in vivo, both among members of this cohort and by other, yet unidentified, xyloglucanases in C. japonicus. Our systems-based analysis indicates distinct substrate-sensing (GH74, GH5E, GH5F) and attack-mounting (GH5D) functions for the endo-xyloglucanases characterized here. Conclusions: Through a multi-faceted, molecular systems-based approach, this study provides a new insight into the saccharification pathway of xyloglucan utilization system of C. japonicus. The detailed structural-functional characterization of three distinct GH5-4 endo-xyloglucanases will inform future bioinformatic predictions across species, and provides new CAZymes with defined specificity that may be harnessed in industrial and other biotechnological applications.

Original languageEnglish
Article number45
JournalBiotechnology for biofuels
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2018

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© The Author(s) 2018. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details


  • Cellvibrio japonicus
  • Glycoside hydrolase
  • Saccharification
  • Saprophyte
  • Xyloglucan

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