Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 65, Issue 6, pp 694–702 | Cite as

Multiple components and induction mechanism of the chitinolytic system of the hyperthermophilic archaeon Thermococcus chitonophagus

  • Evi Andronopoulou
  • Constantinos E. VorgiasEmail author
Biotechnologically Relevant Enzymes and Proteins


Thermococcus chitonophagus produces several, cellular and extracellular chitinolytic enzymes following induction with various types of chitin and chitin oligomers, as well as cellulose. Factors affecting the anaerobic culture of this archaeon, such as optimal temperature, agitation speed and type of chitin, were investigated. A series of chitinases, co-isolated with the major, cell membrane-associated endochitinase (Chi70), and a periplasmic chitobiase (Chi90) were subsequently isolated. In addition, a distinct chitinolytic activity was detected in the culture supernatant and partially purified. This enzyme exhibited an apparent molecular mass of 50 kDa (Chi50) and was optimally active at 80°C and pH 6.0. Chi50 was classified as an exochitinase based on its ability to release chitobiose as the exclusive hydrolysis product of colloidal chitin. A multi-component enzymatic apparatus, consisting of an extracellular exochitinase (Chi50), a periplasmic chitobiase (Chi90) and at least one cell-membrane-anchored endochitinase (Chi70), seems to be sufficient for effective synergistic in vivo degradation of chitin. Induction with chitin stimulates the coordinated expression of a combination of chitinolytic enzymes exhibiting different specificities for polymeric chitin and its degradation products. Among all investigated potential inducers and nutrient substrates, colloidal chitin was the strongest inducer of chitinase synthesis, whereas the highest growth rate was obtained following the addition of yeast extract and/or peptone to the minimal, mineralic culture medium in the absence of chitin. In rich medium, chitin monomer acted as a repressor of total chitinolytic activity, indicating the presence of a negative feedback regulatory mechanism. Despite the undisputable fact that the multi-component chitinolytic system of this archaeon is strongly induced by chitin, it is clear that, even in the absence of any chitinous substrates, there is low-level, basal, constitutive production of chitinolytic enzymes, which can be attributed to the presence of traces of chito-oligosaccharides and other structurally related molecules (in the undefined, rich, non-inducing medium) that act as potential inducers of chitinolytic activity. The low, basal and constitutive levels of chitinase gene expression may be sufficient to initiate chitin degradation and to release soluble oligomers, which, in turn, induce chitinase synthesis.


Chitin Chitinase GlcNAc Chitinase Activity Colloidal Chitin 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Faculty of BiologyNational and Kapodistrian University of AthensAthensGreece

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