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Mol Microbiol. 1993 Sep;9(5):1019-25.

Interchange of functional domains switches enzyme specificity: construction of a chimeric pneumococcal-clostridial cell wall lytic enzyme.

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Département de Génie Biochimique et alimentaire, INSA, Toulouse, France.


Bacterial autolysins are endogenous enzymes that specifically cleave covalent bonds in the cell wall. These enzymes show both substrate and bond specificities. The former is related to their interaction with the insoluble substrate whereas the latter determine their site of action. The bond specificity allows their classification as muramidases (lysozymes), glucosaminidases, amidases, and endopeptidases. To demonstrate that the autolysin (LYC muramidase) of Clostridium acetobutylicum ATCC824 presents a domainal organization, a chimeric gene (clc) containing the regions coding for the catalytic domain of the LYC muramidase and the choline-binding domain of the pneumococcal phage CPL1 muramidase has been constructed by in vitro recombination of the corresponding gene fragments. This chimeric construction codes for a choline-binding protein (CLC) that has been purified using affinity chromatography on DEAE-cellulose. Several biochemical tests demonstrate that this rearrangement of domains has generated an enzyme with a choline-dependent muramidase activity on pneumococcal cell walls. Since the parental LYC muramidase was choline-independent and unable to degrade pneumococcal cell walls, the formation of this active chimeric enzyme by exchanging protein domains between two enzymes that specifically hydrolyse cell walls of bacteria belonging to different genera shows that a switch on substrate specificity has been achieved. The chimeric CLC muramidase behaved as an autolytic enzyme when it was adsorbed onto a live autolysin-defective mutant of Streptococcus pneumoniae. The construction described here provides experimental support for the theory of modular evolution which assumes that novel proteins have evolved by the assembly of preexisting polypeptide units.

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