Formation of the heterocyst envelope polysaccharide (HEP) is a key process for cyanobacterial heterocyst differentiation. The maturation of HEP in Anabaena sp. strain PCC 7120 is controlled by a gene cluster termed HEP island in addition to an operon alr3698-alr3699, which encodes two putative proteins termed Alr3698/HepD and Alr3699/HepE. Here we report the crystal structures of HepE in the apo-form and three complex forms that bind to UDP-glucose (UDPG), UDP&glucose, and UDP, respectively. The overall structure of HepE displays a typical GT-B fold of glycosyltransferases, comprising two separate β/α/β Rossmann-fold domains that form an inter-domain substrate-binding crevice. Structural analyses combined with enzymatic assays indicate that HepE is a glucosyltransferase using UDPG as a sugar donor. Further site-directed mutageneses enable us to assign the key residues that stabilize the sugar donor and putative acceptor. Based on the comparative structural analyses, we propose a putative catalytic cycle of HepE, which undergoes "open-closed-open" conformational changes upon binding to the substrates and release of products. These findings provide structural and catalytic insights into the first enzyme involved in the HEP biosynthesis pathway.
Keywords: GT-B fold; crystal structure; cyanobacteria; glycosyltransferase; heterocyst envelope polysaccharide.
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