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Insect Biochem Mol Biol. 2002 Nov;32(11):1477-88.

Site-directed mutagenesis and functional analysis of an active site tryptophan of insect chitinase.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas 66506, USA.


Chitinase is an enzyme used by insects to degrade the structural polysaccharide, chitin, during the molting process. Tryptophan 145 (W145) of Manduca sexta (tobacco hornworm) chitinase is a highly conserved residue found within a second conserved region of family 18 chitinases. It is located between aspartate 144 (D144) and glutamate 146 (E146), which are putative catalytic residues. The role of the active site residue, W145, in M. sexta chitinase catalysis was investigated by site-directed mutagenesis. W145 was mutated to phenylalanine (F), tyrosine (Y), isoleucine (I), histidine (H), and glycine (G). Wild-type and mutant forms of M. sexta chitinases were expressed in a baculovirus-insect cell line system. The chitinases secreted into the medium were purified and characterized by analyzing their catalytic activity and substrate or inhibitor binding properties. The wild-type chitinase was most active in the alkaline pH range. Several of the mutations resulted in a narrowing of the range of pH over which the enzyme hydrolyzed the polymeric substrate, CM-Chitin-RBV, predominantly on the alkaline side of the pH optimum curve. The range was reduced by about 1 pH unit for W145I and W145Y and by about 2 units for W145H and W145F. The W145G mutation was inactive. Therefore, the hydrophobicity of W145 appears to be critical for maintaining an abnormal pKa of a catalytic residue, which extends the activity further into the alkaline range. All of the mutant enzymes bound to chitin, suggesting that W145 was not essential for binding to chitin. However, the small difference in Km's of mutated enzymes compared to Km values of the wild-type chitinase towards both the oligomeric and polymeric substrates suggested that W145 is not essential for substrate binding but probably influences the ionization of a catalytically important group(s). The variations in kcat's among the mutated enzymes and the IC50 for the transition state inhibitor analog, allosamidin, indicate that W145 also influences formation of the transition state during catalysis.

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