The catalytic domains of family GH19 chitinases have been found to consist of a conserved, α-helical core-region and different numbers (1–6) of loop structures, located at both ends of the substrate-binding groove and which extend over the glycon- and aglycon-binding sites. We expressed, purified and enzymatically characterized a GH19 chitinase from rice, Oryza sativa L. cv. Nipponbare (OsChia2a), lacking a major loop structure (loop III) connected to the functionally important β-stranded region. The new enzyme thus contained the five remaining loop structures (loops I, II, IV, V and C-term). The OsChia2a recombinant protein catalyzed hydrolysis of chitin oligosaccharides, (GlcNAc)n (n = 3–6), with inversion of anomeric configuration, indicating that OsChia2a correctly folded without loop III. From thermal unfolding experiments and calorimetric titrations using the inactive OsChia2a mutant (OsChia2a-E68Q), in which the catalytic residue Glu68 was mutated to glutamine, we found that the binding affinities towards (GlcNAc)n (n = 2–6) were almost proportional to the degree of polymerization of (GlcNAc)n, but were much lower than those obtained for a moss GH19 chitinase having only loop III [Ohnuma T, Sørlie M, Fukuda T, Kawamoto N, Taira T, Fukamizo T. 2011. Chitin oligosaccharide binding to a family GH19 chitinase from the moss, Bryum coronatum. FEBS J. 278:3991–4001]. Nevertheless, OsChia2a exhibited significant antifungal activity. It appears that loop III connected to the β-stranded region is important for (GlcNAc)n binding, but is not essential for antifungal activity.

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