Dynamic interactions of type I cohesin modules fine-tune the structure of the cellulosome of Clostridium thermocellum

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Nov 27;115(48):E11274-E11283. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1809283115. Epub 2018 Nov 14.


Efficient degradation of plant cell walls by selected anaerobic bacteria is performed by large extracellular multienzyme complexes termed cellulosomes. The spatial arrangement within the cellulosome is organized by a protein called scaffoldin, which recruits the cellulolytic subunits through interactions between cohesin modules on the scaffoldin and dockerin modules on the enzymes. Although many structural studies of the individual components of cellulosomal scaffoldins have been performed, the role of interactions between individual cohesin modules and the flexible linker regions between them are still not entirely understood. Here, we report single-molecule measurements using FRET to study the conformational dynamics of a bimodular cohesin segment of the scaffoldin protein CipA of Clostridium thermocellum We observe compacted structures in solution that persist on the timescale of milliseconds. The compacted conformation is found to be in dynamic equilibrium with an extended state that shows distance fluctuations on the microsecond timescale. Shortening of the intercohesin linker does not destabilize the interactions but reduces the rate of contact formation. Upon addition of dockerin-containing enzymes, an extension of the flexible state is observed, but the cohesin-cohesin interactions persist. Using all-atom molecular-dynamics simulations of the system, we further identify possible intercohesin binding modes. Beyond the view of scaffoldin as "beads on a string," we propose that cohesin-cohesin interactions are an important factor for the precise spatial arrangement of the enzymatic subunits in the cellulosome that leads to the high catalytic synergy in these assemblies and should be considered when designing cellulosomes for industrial applications.

Keywords: FRET; conformational dynamics; fluorescence; molecular dynamics; single molecule.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / chemistry
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / genetics
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cellulosomes / chemistry*
  • Cellulosomes / genetics
  • Cellulosomes / metabolism*
  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone / chemistry
  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone / genetics
  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone / metabolism*
  • Clostridium thermocellum / chemistry
  • Clostridium thermocellum / genetics
  • Clostridium thermocellum / metabolism*
  • Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Protein Binding


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone
  • CipA protein, Clostridium
  • Membrane Proteins
  • cohesins