The sialyl-O-acetylesterase NanS of Tannerella forsythia encompasses two catalytic modules with different regiospecificity for O7 and O9 of sialic acid

Glycobiology. 2021 Sep 20;31(9):1176-1191. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cwab034.


The periodontal pathogen Tannerella forsythia utilizes host sialic acids as a nutrient source. To also make O-acetylated sialyl residues susceptible to the action of its sialidase and sialic acid uptake system, Tannerella produces NanS, an O-acetylesterase with two putative catalytic domains. Here, we analyzed NanS by homology modeling, predicted a catalytic serine-histidine-aspartate triad for each catalytic domain and performed individual domain inactivation by single alanine exchanges of the triad nucleophiles S32 and S311. Subsequent functional analyses revealed that both domains possess sialyl-O-acetylesterase activity, but differ in their regioselectivity with respect to position O9 and O7 of sialic acid. The 7-O-acetylesterase activity inherent to the C-terminal domain of NanS is unique among sialyl-O-acetylesterases and fills the current gap in tools targeting 7-O-acetylation. Application of the O7-specific variant NanS-S32A allowed us to evidence the presence of cellular 7,9-di-O-acetylated sialoglycans by monitoring the gain in 9-O-acetylation upon selective removal of acetyl groups from O7. Moreover, we established de-7,9-O-acetylation by wild-type NanS as an easy and efficient method to validate the specific binding of three viral lectins commonly used for the recognition of (7),9-O-acetylated sialoglycans. Their binding critically depends on an acetyl group in O9, yet de-7,9-O-acetylation proved advantageous over de-9-O-acetylation as the additional removal of the 7-O-acetyl group eliminated ligand formation by 7,9-ester migration. Together, our data show that NanS gained dual functionality through recruitment of two esterase modules with complementary activities. This enables Tannerella to scavenge 7,9-di-O-acetylated sialyl residues and provides a novel, O7-specific tool for studying sialic acid O-acetylation.

Keywords: O-acetylation; SGNH-fold; oral pathogen; sialic acid; sialyl-7,9-O-acetylesterase.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylation
  • Acetylesterase* / chemistry
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid* / metabolism
  • Neuraminidase / metabolism
  • Sialic Acids / metabolism
  • Tannerella forsythia


  • Sialic Acids
  • Acetylesterase
  • Neuraminidase
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid