Biochemistry and physiological roles of enzymes that 'cut and paste' plant cell-wall polysaccharides

J Exp Bot. 2013 Sep;64(12):3519-50. doi: 10.1093/jxb/ert201.


The plant cell-wall matrix is equipped with more than 20 glycosylhydrolase activities, including both glycosidases and glycanases (exo- and endo-hydrolases, respectively), which between them are in principle capable of hydrolysing most of the major glycosidic bonds in wall polysaccharides. Some of these enzymes also participate in the 'cutting and pasting' (transglycosylation) of sugar residues-enzyme activities known as transglycosidases and transglycanases. Their action and biological functions differ from those of the UDP-dependent glycosyltransferases (polysaccharide synthases) that catalyse irreversible glycosyl transfer. Based on the nature of the substrates, two types of reaction can be distinguished: homo-transglycosylation (occurring between chemically similar polymers) and hetero-transglycosylation (between chemically different polymers). This review focuses on plant cell-wall-localized glycosylhydrolases and the transglycosylase activities exhibited by some of these enzymes and considers the physiological need for wall polysaccharide modification in vivo. It describes the mechanism of transglycosylase action and the classification and phylogenetic variation of the enzymes. It discusses the modulation of their expression in plants at the transcriptional and translational levels, and methods for their detection. It also critically evaluates the evidence that the enzyme proteins under consideration exhibit their predicted activity in vitro and their predicted action in vivo. Finally, this review suggests that wall-localized glycosylhydrolases with transglycosidase and transglycanase abilities are widespread in plants and play important roles in the mechanism and control of plant cell expansion, differentiation, maturation, and wall repair.

Keywords: Cell expansion; cell wall; glycanases; glycosidases; hemicelluloses; hydrolysis; oligosaccharides; pectins; remodelling; transglycanases; transglycosidases; transglycosylation; xyloglucan..

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Wall / enzymology*
  • Glycoside Hydrolases / classification
  • Glycoside Hydrolases / genetics*
  • Glycoside Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Glycosylation
  • Phylogeny
  • Plant Cells / enzymology*
  • Plants / enzymology
  • Plants / genetics*
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism*


  • Polysaccharides
  • Glycoside Hydrolases