Increasing the thermal stability of cellulase C using rules learned from thermophilic proteins: a pilot study

Biophys Chem. 2002 May 2;96(2-3):229-41. doi: 10.1016/s0301-4622(02)00027-3.


Some structural features underlying the increased thermostability of enzymes from thermophilic organisms relative to their homologues from mesophiles are known from earlier studies. We used cellulase C from Clostridium thermocellum to test whether thermostability can be increased by mutations designed using rules learned from thermophilic proteins. Cellulase C has a TIM barrel fold with an additional helical subdomain. We designed and produced a number of mutants with the aim to increase its thermostability. Five mutants were designed to create new electrostatic interactions. They all retained catalytic activity but exhibited decreased thermostability relative to the wild-type enzyme. Here, the stabilizing contributions are obviously smaller than the destabilization caused by the introduction of the new side chains. In another mutant, the small helical subdomain was deleted. This mutant lost activity but its melting point was only 3 degrees C lower than that of the wild-type enzyme, which suggests that the subdomain is an independent folding unit and is important for catalytic function. A double mutant was designed to introduce a new disulfide bridge into the enzyme. This mutant is active and has an increased stability (deltaT(m)=3 degrees C, delta(deltaG(u))=1.73 kcal/mol) relative to the wild-type enzyme. Reduction of the disulfide bridge results in destabilization and an altered thermal denaturation behavior. We conclude that rules learned from thermophilic proteins cannot be used in a straightforward way to increase the thermostability of a protein. Creating a crosslink such as a disulfide bond is a relatively sure-fire method but the stabilization may be smaller than calculated due to coupled destabilizing effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Calorimetry, Differential Scanning
  • Cellulase / chemistry*
  • Cellulase / genetics
  • Clostridium / chemistry
  • Disulfides
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / chemistry*
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / genetics
  • Models, Molecular
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Pilot Projects
  • Protein Denaturation / drug effects
  • Protein Denaturation / genetics*
  • Protein Engineering
  • Temperature


  • Disulfides
  • Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Cellulase