α-Glucans from bacterial exo-polysaccharides or diet, e.g., resistant starch, legumes and honey are abundant in the human gut and fermentation of resistant fractions of these α-glucans by probiotic lactobacilli and bifidobacteria impacts human health positively. The ability to degrade polymeric α-glucans is confined to few strains encoding extracellular amylolytic activities of glycoside hydrolase (GH) family 13. Debranching pullulanases of the subfamily GH13_14 are the most common extracellular GH13 enzymes in lactobacilli, whereas corresponding enzymes are mainly α-amylases and amylopullulanases in bifidobacteria. Extracellular GH13 enzymes from both genera are frequently modular and possess starch binding domains, which are important for efficient catalysis and possibly to mediate attachment of cells to starch granules. α-1,6-Linked glucans, e.g., isomalto-oligosaccharides are potential prebiotics. The enzymes targeting these glucans are the most abundant intracellular GHs in bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. A phosphoenolpyruvate-dependent phosphotransferase system and a GH4 phospho-α-glucosidase are likely involved in metabolism of isomaltose and isomaltulose in probiotic lactobacilli based on transcriptional analysis. This specificity within GH4 is unique for lactobacilli, whereas canonical GH13 31 α-1,6-glucosidases active on longer α-1,6-gluco-oligosaccharides are ubiquitous in bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. Malto-oligosaccharide utilization operons encode more complex, diverse, and less biochemically understood activities in bifidobacteria compared to lactobacilli, where important members have been recently described at the molecular level. This review presents some aspects of α-glucan metabolism in probiotic bacteria and highlights vague issues that merit experimental effort, especially oligosaccharide uptake and the functionally unassigned enzymes, featuring in this important facet of glycan turnover by members of the gut microbiota.
- oligosaccharide uptake
- ATP-binding cassette transport system
- phosphotransferase system
- transcriptional analysis