Backbone structures in human milk oligosaccharides: trans-glycosylation by metagenomic ß-N-acetylhexosaminidases

C. Nyffenegger, R.T. Nordvang, B. Zeuner, M. Lezyk, E. Difilippo, M.J. Logtenberg, H.A. Schols, A.S. Meyer, J.D. Mikkelsen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


This paper describes the discovery and characterization of two novel ß-N-acetylhexosaminidases HEX1 and HEX2, capable of catalyzing the synthesis of human milk oligosaccharides (HMO) backbone structures with fair yields using chitin oligomers as ß-N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc) donor. The enzyme-encoding genes were identified by functional screening of a soil-derived metagenomic library. The ß-N-acetylhexosaminidases were expressed in Escherichia coli with an N-terminal His6-tag and were purified by nickel affinity chromatography. The sequence similarities of the enzymes with their respective closest homologues are 59 % for HEX1 and 51 % for HEX2 on the protein level. Both ß-N-acetylhexosaminidases are classified into glycosyl hydrolase family 20 (GH 20) are able to hydrolyze para-nitrophenyl-ß-N-acetylglucosamine (pNP-GlcNAc) as well as para-nitrophenyl-ß-N-acetylgalactosamine (pNP-GalNAc) and exhibit pH optima of 8 and 6 for HEX1 and HEX2, respectively. The enzymes are able to hydrolyze N-acetylchitooligosaccharides with a degree of polymerization of two, three, and four. The major findings were, that HEX1 and HEX2 catalyze trans-glycosylation reactions with lactose as acceptor, giving rise to the human milk oligosaccharide precursor lacto-N-triose II (LNT2) with yields of 2 and 8 % based on the donor substrate. In total, trans-glycosylation reactions were tested with the disaccharide acceptors ß-lactose, sucrose, and maltose, as well as with the monosaccharides galactose and glucose resulting in the successful attachment of GlcNAc to the acceptor in all cases.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7997-8009
JournalApplied Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Chito-oligosaccharides
  • Functional screening
  • Lacto-N-triose II
  • Protein expression
  • Synthetic biology


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