Human milk contains high amounts of complex oligosaccharides, which can be utilized especially by Bifidobacterium species in the infant gut as a carbon and energy source. N-acetyl-D-glucosamine is a building block of these oligosaccharides, and molecular details on the release and utilization of this monosaccharide are not fully understood. In this work we have studied some of the enzymatic properties of three N-acetyl-β-D-hexosaminidases encoded by the genome of the intestinal isolate Bifidobacterium longum subsp. infantis ATCC 15697 and the gene expression of the corresponding genes during bacterial growth on human milk oligosaccharides. These enzymes belong to the glycosyl hydrolase family 20, with several homologs in bifidobacteria. Their optimum pH was 5.0 and optimum temperature was 37 °C. The three enzymes were active on the GlcNAcβ1-3 linkage found in lacto-N-tetraose, the most abundant human milk oligosaccharide. Blon_0459 and Blon_0732, but not Blon_2355, cleaved branched GlcNAcβ1-6 linkages found in lacto-N-hexaose, another oligosaccharide abundant in breast milk. Bifidobacterium infantis N-acetyl-β-D-hexosaminidases were induced during early growth in vitro on human milk oligosaccharides, and also during growth on lacto-N-tetraose or lacto-N-neotetraose. The up-regulation of enzymes that convert this monosaccharide into UDP-N-acetylglucosamine by human milk oligosaccharides suggested that this activated sugar is used in peptidoglycan biosynthesis. These results emphasize the complexity of human milk oligosaccharide consumption by this infant intestinal isolate, and provide new clues into this process.
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