Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Chemical and Materials Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Christina M. Payne

Second Advisor

Dr. Bradley J. Berron


Non-catalytic protein-carbohydrate interactions are an essential element of various biological events. This dissertation presents the work on understanding carbohydrate recognition mechanisms and their physical significance in two groups of non-catalytic proteins, also called lectins, which play key roles in major applications such as cellulosic biofuel production and drug delivery pathways. A computational approach using molecular modeling, molecular dynamic simulations and free energy calculations was used to study molecular-level protein-carbohydrate and protein-protein interactions. Various microorganisms like bacteria and fungi secret multi-modular enzymes to deconstruct cellulosic biomass into fermentable sugars. The carbohydrate binding modules (CBM) are non-catalytic domains of such enzymes that assist the catalytic domains to recognize the target substrate and keep it in proximity. Understanding the protein-carbohydrate recognition mechanisms by which CBMs selectively bind substrate is critical to development of enhanced biomass conversion technology. We focus on CBMs that target both oligomeric and non-crystalline cellulose while exhibiting various similarities and differences in binding specificity and structural properties; such CBMs are classified as Type B CBMs. We show that all six cellulose-specific Type B CBMs studied in this dissertation can recognize the cello-oligomeric ligands in bi-directional fashion, meaning there was no preference towards reducing or non-reducing end of ligand for the cleft/groove like binding sites. Out of the two sandwich and twisted forms of binding site architectures, twisted platform turned out to facilitate tighter binding also exhibiting longer binding sites. The exterior loops of such binding sites were specifically identified by modeling the CBMs with non-crystalline cellulose showing that high- and low-affinity binding site may arise based on orientation of CBM while interacting with non-crystalline substrate. These findings provide various insights that can be used for further understanding of tandem CBMs and for various CBM based biotechnological applications.

The later part of this dissertation reports the identification of a physiological ligand for a mammalian glycoprotein YKL-40 that has been only known as a biomarker in various inflammatory diseases and cancers. It has been shown to bind to oligomers of chitin, but there is no known function of YKL-40, as chitin production in the human body has never been reported. Possible alternative ligands include proteoglycans, polysaccharides, and fibers such as collagen, all of which make up the mesh comprising the extracellular matrix. It is likely that YKL-40 is interacting with these alternative polysaccharides or proteins within the body, extending its function to cell biological roles such as mediating cellular receptors and cell adhesion and migration. We considered the feasibility of polysaccharides, including cello-oligosaccharides, hyaluronan, heparan sulfate, heparin, and chondroitin sulfate, and collagen-like peptides as physiological ligands for YKL-40. Our simulation results suggest that chitohexaose and hyaluronan preferentially bind to YKL-40 over collagen, and hyaluronan is likely the preferred physiological ligand, as the negatively charged hyaluronan shows enhanced affinity for YKL-40 over neutral chitohexaose. Collagen binds in two locations at the YKL-40 surface, potentially related to a role in fibrillar formation. Finally, heparin non- specifically binds at the YKL-40 surface, as predicted from structural studies. Overall, YKL-40 likely binds many natural ligands in vivo, but its concurrence with physical maladies may be related to the associated increases in hyaluronan.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Movie_3.1.mpg (1533 kB)
Movie 3.1: Trajectory of CfCBM4-1-RE’ for first 25-ns showing the shifting of cellopentaose at around 8-ns.

Movie_3.2.mpg (1544 kB)
Movie 3.2: Trajectory of CfCBM4-1-RE’ for first 25-ns showing the shifting of cellopentaose at around 2-ns. (5700 kB)
Movie 6.1: Trajectory of YKL-40 in complex with herapin where herapin was docked in the primary binding site. (3671 kB)
Movie 6.2: Trajectory of YKL-40 with starting position of herapin in the bulk with no initial interaction between them. (7767 kB)
Movie 7.1: Trajectory of YKL-40 binding to all four collagen peptide models at binding state A for 250-ns.