The modes of action of the five major endo-(1→4)-beta-D-glucanases (I, II, III, IV and V) purified from Penicillium pinophilum cellulase were compared by h.p.l.c. analysis, with normal, 1-3H-labelled and reduced cello-oligosaccharides and 4-methylumbelliferyl glycosides as substrates. Significant differences were observed in the preferred site of cleavage even when substrates with the same number of glycosidic bonds were compared. Thus, although endoglucanase I was unable to attack normal cello-oligosaccharides shorter than degree of polymerization 6, it hydrolysed reduced cellopentaose to yield cellotriose and cellobi-itol, and it produced cellotriose and 4-methylumbelliferyl glucoside from 4-methylumbelliferyl cellotetraoside. Endoglucanase IV hydrolysed [1-3H]cellotriose but did not attack either cellotri-itol or 4-methylumbelliferyl cellobioside. These and other anomalous results indicated clearly that modification of the reducing glycosyl residue on the cello-oligosaccharides induces in an apparent change in the mode of action of the endoglucanases. It is suggested that, although cello-oligosaccharide derivatives are useful for differentiating and classifying endoglucanases, conclusions on the mechanism of cellulase action resulting from these measurements should be treated cautiously. Unequivocal information on the mode of endoglucanase action on cello-oligosaccharides was obtained with radiolabelled cello-oligosaccharides of degree of polymerization 3 to 5. Indications that transglycosylation was a property of the endoglucanases were particularly evident with the 4-methylumbelliferyl cello-oligosaccharides. Turnover numbers for hydrolysis of the umbelliferyl cello-oligosaccharides were calculated, and these, along with the other analytical data collected on the products of hydrolysis of the normal, reduced and radiolabelled cello-oligosaccharides, suggested that the various endoglucanases had different roles to play in the overall hydrolysis of cellulose to sugars small enough to be transported through the cell membrane.

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