Structural insights into the affinity of Cel7A carbohydrate-binding module for lignin [Protein Structure and Folding]

July 24th, 2015 by Strobel, K. L., Pfeiffer, K. A., Blanch, H. W., Clark, D. S.

The high cost of hydrolytic enzymes impedes the commercial production of lignocellulosic biofuels. High enzyme loadings are required in part due to their non-productive adsorption to lignin, a major component of biomass. Despite numerous studies documenting cellulase adsorption to lignin, few attempts have been made to engineer enzymes to reduce lignin binding. In this work, we used alanine-scanning mutagenesis to elucidate the structural basis of the T. reesei Cel7A carbohydrate-binding module′s (CBM′s) lignin affinity. T. reesei Cel7A CBM mutants were produced with a T. emersonii Cel7A catalytic domain and screened for their binding to cellulose and lignin. Mutation of aromatic and polar residues on the planar face of the CBM greatly decreased binding to both cellulose and lignin, supporting the hypothesis that the cellulose-binding face is also responsible for lignin affinity. Cellulose and lignin affinity of the 31 mutants were highly correlated, though several mutants displayed selective reductions in lignin or cellulose affinity. Four mutants with increased cellulose selectivity (Q2A, H4A, V18A, and P30A) did not exhibit improved hydrolysis of cellulose in the presence of lignin. Further reduction in lignin affinity while maintaining a high level of cellulose affinity is thus necessary to generate an enzyme with improved hydrolysis capability. This work provides insights into the structural underpinnings of lignin affinity, identifies residues amenable to mutation without compromising cellulose affinity, and informs engineering strategies for family one CBMs.