We postulate that the ChiN and FnIII domains evolved independently in chitinases which share otherwise homologous catalytic domains. The flexibility of the ChiN domain, together with biochemical knowledge of the function of similar domains, leads us to propose that immunoglobulin-like folds in chitinases are involved in interactions with the chitin chain during catalysis.
Chitinase A from Serratia marcescens is a glycosyl hydrolase consisting of three distinct domains. The N-terminal domain (ChiN domain, amino acids 24-137) has an immunoglobulin-like fold. This ChiN domain is structurally similar to fibronectin type III domains (FnIII domains), which exist in other chitinases, but does not share any sequence similarity with them.
Structure comparisons of the ChiN domain and FnIII domains confirm the similar fold, but fail to establish any sequence similarity. Sequence searches and comparisons between ChiN and FnIII domain sequences show a remarkable difference between the two domains in chitinases from an evolutionary point of view. A low temperature structure of chitinase A shows that the ChiN module is flexible with respect to the catalytic body of the protein.