The Hydrolysis Mechanism of a GH45 Cellulase and its Potential Relation to Lytic Transglycosylase and Expansin Function

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Family 45 glycoside hydrolases (GH45) are endoglucanases that are integral to cellulolytic secretomes, and their ability to break down cellulose has been successfully exploited in textile and detergent industries. In addition to their industrial relevance, understanding the molecular mechanism of GH45-catalyzed hydrolysis is of fundamental importance because of their structural similarity to cell wall-modifying enzymes such as bacterial lytic transglycosylases (LTs) and expansins present in bacteria, plants, and fungi. Our understanding of the catalytic itinerary of GH45s has been incomplete because a crystal structure with substrate spanning the +1 to +1 subsites is currently lacking. Here we constructed and validated a putative Michaelis complex in silico and used it to elucidate the hydrolytic mechanism in a GH45, Cel45A from the fungus Humicola insolens, via unbiased simulation approaches. These molecular simulations revealed that the solvent-exposed active-site architecture results in lack of coordination for the hydroxymethyl group of the substrate at the -1 subsite. This lack of coordination imparted mobility to the hydroxymethyl group and enabled a crucial hydrogen bond with the catalytic acid during and after the reaction. This suggests the possibility of a nonhydrolytic reaction mechanism when the catalytic base aspartic acid is missing, as is the case in some LTs (murein transglycosylase A) and expansins. We calculated reaction free energies and demonstrate the thermodynamic feasibility of the hydrolytic and nonhydrolytic reaction mechanisms. Our results provide molecular insights into the hydrolysis mechanism in HiCel45A, with possible implications for elucidating the elusive catalytic mechanism in LTs and expansins.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)4477-4487
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number14
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Inc.. All rights reserved.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2700-76150


  • cellulase
  • enzyme mechanism
  • expansins
  • GH45
  • glycoside hydrolase
  • lytic-transglycosylases
  • molecular dynamics
  • QM/MM
  • transition path sampling


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