Synergy between Cell Surface Glycosidases and Glycan-Binding Proteins Dictates the Utilization of Specific Beta(1,3)-Glucans by Human Gut Bacteroides

mBio. 2020 Apr 7;11(2):e00095-20. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00095-20.


The human gut microbiota (HGM) has far-reaching impacts on human health and nutrition, which are fueled primarily by the metabolism of otherwise indigestible complex carbohydrates commonly known as dietary fiber. However, the molecular basis of the ability of individual taxa of the HGM to address specific dietary glycan structures remains largely unclear. In particular, the utilization of β(1,3)-glucans, which are widespread in the human diet as yeast, seaweed, and plant cell walls, had not previously been resolved. Through a systems-based approach, here we show that the symbiont Bacteroides uniformis deploys a single, exemplar polysaccharide utilization locus (PUL) to access yeast β(1,3)-glucan, brown seaweed β(1,3)-glucan (laminarin), and cereal mixed-linkage β(1,3)/β(1,4)-glucan. Combined biochemical, enzymatic, and structural analysis of PUL-encoded glycoside hydrolases (GHs) and surface glycan-binding proteins (SGBPs) illuminates a concerted molecular system by which B. uniformis recognizes and saccharifies these distinct β-glucans. Strikingly, the functional characterization of homologous β(1,3)-glucan utilization loci (1,3GUL) in other Bacteroides further demonstrated that the ability of individual taxa to utilize β(1,3)-glucan variants and/or β(1,3)/β(1,4)-glucans arises combinatorially from the individual specificities of SGBPs and GHs at the cell surface, which feed corresponding signals to periplasmic hybrid two-component sensors (HTCSs) via TonB-dependent transporters (TBDTs). These data reveal the importance of cooperativity in the adaptive evolution of GH and SGBP cohorts to address individual polysaccharide structures. We anticipate that this fine-grained knowledge of PUL function will inform metabolic network analysis and proactive manipulation of the HGM. Indeed, a survey of 2,441 public human metagenomes revealed the international, yet individual-specific, distribution of each 1,3GUL.IMPORTANCEBacteroidetes are a dominant phylum of the human gut microbiota (HGM) that target otherwise indigestible dietary fiber with an arsenal of polysaccharide utilization loci (PULs), each of which is dedicated to the utilization of a specific complex carbohydrate. Here, we provide novel insight into this paradigm through functional characterization of homologous PULs from three autochthonous Bacteroides species, which target the family of dietary β(1,3)-glucans. Through detailed biochemical and protein structural analysis, we observed an unexpected diversity in the substrate specificity of PUL glycosidases and glycan-binding proteins with regard to β(1,3)-glucan linkage and branching patterns. In combination, these individual enzyme and protein specificities support taxon-specific growth on individual β(1,3)-glucans. This detailed metabolic insight, together with a comprehensive survey of individual 1,3GULs across human populations, further expands the fundamental roadmap of the HGM, with potential application to the future development of microbial intervention therapies.

Keywords: Bacteroides; Bacteroidetes; dietary fiber; glycan-binding protein; glycoside hydrolase; polysaccharide utilization locus; polysaccharides.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Bacteroides / enzymology*
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Membrane / enzymology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Dietary Fiber*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Glycoside Hydrolases / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Substrate Specificity
  • beta-Glucans / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Dietary Fiber
  • beta-Glucans
  • Glycoside Hydrolases

Supplementary concepts

  • Bacteroides uniformis