Multiple Functions of Aromatic-Carbohydrate Interactions in a Processive Cellulase Examined with Molecular Simulation

Christina M. Payne, Yannick J. Bomble, Courtney B. Taylor, Clare McCabe, Michael E. Himmel, Michael F. Crowley, Gregg T. Beckham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus Citations


Proteins employ aromatic residues for carbohydrate binding in a wide range of biological functions. Glycoside hydrolases, which are ubiquitous in nature, typically exhibit tunnels, clefts, or pockets lined with aromatic residues for processing carbohydrates. Mutation of these aromatic residues often results in significant activity differences on insoluble and soluble substrates. However, the thermodynamic basis and molecular level role of these aromatic residues remain unknown. Here, we calculate the relative ligand binding free energy by mutating tryptophans in the Trichoderma reesei family 6 cellulase (Cel6A) to alanine. Removal of aromatic residues near the catalytic site has little impact on the ligand binding free energy, suggesting that aromatic residues immediately upstream of the active site are not directly involved in binding, but play a role in the glucopyranose ring distortion necessary for catalysis. Removal of aromatic residues at the entrance and exit of the Cel6A tunnel, however, dramatically impacts the binding affinity, suggesting that these residues play a role in chain acquisition and product stabilization, respectively. The roles suggested from differences in binding affinity are confirmed by molecular dynamics and normal mode analysis. Surprisingly, our results illustrate that aromatic-carbohydrate interactions vary dramatically depending on the position in the enzyme tunnel. As aromatic-carbohydrate interactions are present in all carbohydrate-active enzymes, these results have implications for understanding protein structure-function relationships in carbohydrate metabolism and recognition, carbon turnover in nature, and protein engineering strategies for biomass utilization. Generally, these results suggest that nature employs aromatic-carbohydrate interactions with a wide range of binding affinities for diverse functions.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)41028-41035
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number47
StatePublished - 2011

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-52948


  • carbohydrate processing
  • carbohydrate-binding
  • enzyme mutation
  • free energy simulations
  • ligand binding
  • molecular modeling
  • thermodynamic integration
  • thermodynamics biomass conversion


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