SUMMARY: Enzymological evidence has been sought for the purported involvement of chitinolysis in vegetative growth of filamentous fungi. A procedure has been developed for the production of fast growing and morphologically homogeneous exponential phase mycelium of the non-septate dimorphic zygomycete A partially purified extract of this material has been subjected to gel-permeation chromatography and the chitinolytic activity of eluate fractions has been assessed using colloidal and nascent chitin and 3,4-dinitrophenyl tetra--acetylchitotetraoside [3,4-DNP-(GlcNAc)] as substrates. Exponentially growing (t = 1·1 h) mycelium consisting of single short-branched hyphae contains at least seven chitinases. The two particulate ones have not been studied in detail. The soluble chitinases hydrolyse (pseudo)chito-oligomers by random cleavage of internal β-1,4-bonds (and not by processing) and have a minimum chain-length requirement of = 4. They are clearly distinct from β--acetylglucosaminidase (β-GlcNAc'ase) with respect to their chromatographic behaviour, substrate chain-length specificity, inhibition by chitobionolactone oxime ( = 175 μM), and non-inhibition by the specific β-GlcNAc'ase inhibitor -acetylglucosaminono-1,5-lactone oxime. Their pH optima are similar (6·5-7·0), and all can hydrolyse 3,4-DNP-(GlcNAc) as well as nascent chitin. With respect to their charge, response to protease treatment, behaviour upon gel-permeation chromatography and ability to use colloidal chitin as a substrate, the soluble chitinases do, however, represent two distinct groups. Type A chitinases are acidic, display partial latency, show an unusual affinity to dextran gel and act weakly on colloidal chitin. Type B chitinases are basic (or neutral) and non-zymogenic, do not behave anomalously upon gel filtration and can degrade preformed chitin. An hypothesis is presented for the function of the complex chitinolytic system of the fungal hypha in branching and, possibly, also in apical growth.


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