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Structure. 1996 Mar 15;4(3):265-75.

The crystal structure of endoglucanase CelA, a family 8 glycosyl hydrolase from Clostridium thermocellum.

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Unité d'lmmunologie Structurale and URA 1961 CNRS, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France.

Erratum in

  • Structure 1996 May 15;4(5):633.



Cellulases, which catalyze the hydrolysis of glycosidic bonds in cellulose, can be classified into several different protein families. Endoglucanase CelA is a member of glycosyl hydrolase family 8, a family for which no structural information was previously available.


The crystal structure of CelA was determined by multiple isomorphous replacement and refined to 1.65 A resolution. The protein folds into a regular (alpha/alpha)6 barrel formed by six inner and six outer alpha helices. Cello-oligosaccharides bind to an acidic cleft containing at least five D-glucosyl-binding subsites (A-E) such that the scissile glycosidic linkage lies between subsites C and D. The strictly conserved residue Glu95, which occupies the center of the substrate-binding cleft and is hydrogen bonded to the glycosidic oxygen, has been assigned the catalytic role of proton donor.


The present analysis provides a basis for modeling homologous family 8 cellulases. The architecture of the active-site cleft, presenting at least five glucosyl-binding subsites, explains why family 8 cellulases cleave cello-oligosaccharide polymers that are at least five D-glycosyl subunits long. Furthermore, the structure of CelA allows comparison with (alpha/alpha)6 barrel glycosidases that are not related in sequence, suggesting a possible, albeit distant, evolutionary relationship between different families of glycosyl hydrolases.

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