Interdependence of backbone flexibility, residue conservation, and enzyme function: A case study on β1,4-Galactosyltransferase-I

K. Gunasekaran, Buyong Ma, B. Ramakrishnan, Pradman K. Qasba, Ruth Nussinov*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


β1,4-Galactosyltransferase-I (G4Gal-T1) catalyzes the transfer of a galactose from UDP-galactose to N-acetylglucosamine. A recent crystal structure determination of the substrate-bound enzyme reveals a large conformational change, which creates binding sites for the oligosaccharide and α-lactalbumin, when compared to the ligand-free structure. The conformational changes take place in a 21-residue-long loop (I345-H365) and in a smaller loop containing a tryptophan residue (W314) flanked by glycines (Y311-G316; Trp loop). A series of molecular dynamics simulations carried out with an implicit solvent model and with explicit water successfully identify flexibility in the two loops and in another interacting loop. These observations are confirmed by limited proteolysis experiments that reveal an intrinsic flexibility of the long loop. The multiple simulation runs starting with the substrate-free structure show that the long loop moves toward its conformation in the ligand-bound structure; however, it gets stabilized in an intermediate position. The Trp loop moves in the opposite direction to that of the long loop, making contacts with residues in the long loop. Remarkably, when the Trp loop is restrained in its starting conformation, no large conformational change takes place in the long loop, indicating residue communication of flexibility. Sequence and structural analysis of the β4Gal-T1 family with 37 known sequences reveals that in contrast to the unconserved long loop, which undergoes a much larger conformational change, the Trp loop including the glycines is highly conserved. These observations lead us to propose a new functional mechanism that may be conserved by evolution to perform a variety of functions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3674-3687
Number of pages14
Issue number13
StatePublished - 8 Apr 2003


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