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Beta-galactosidase (1tg7).png
β-galactosidase from Penicillum sp.
EC number
CAS number 9031-11-2
IntEnz IntEnz view
ExPASy NiceZyme view
MetaCyc metabolic pathway
PRIAM profile
PDB structures RCSB PDB PDBe PDBsum
Gene Ontology AmiGO / EGO
galactosidase, beta 1
Symbol GLB1
Alt. symbols ELNR1
Entrez 2720
HUGO 4298
OMIM 230500
RefSeq NM_000404
UniProt P16278
Other data
Locus Chr. 3 p22.3

β-galactosidase, also called beta-gal or β-gal, is a hydrolase enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of β-galactosides into monosaccharides. Substrates of different β-galactosidases include ganglioside GM1, lactosylceramides, lactose, and various glycoproteins.[1]

Properties and functions[edit]

β-galactosidase is an exoglycosidase which hydrolyzes the β-glycosidic bond formed between a galactose and its organic moiety. It may also cleave fucosides and arabinosides but with much lower efficiency. It is an essential enzyme in the human body. Deficiencies in the protein can result in galactosialidosis or Morquio B syndrome. In E. coli, the gene of β-galactosidase, the lacZ gene, is present as part of the inducible system lac operon which is activated in the presence of lactose when glucose level is low.

Beta-gal is inhibited by phenylthyl thio-beta-D-galactoside (PETG), L-ribose, D-galactonolactone, and competitive inhibitor isopropyl thio-beta-D-galactoside (IPTG).[2]

It is commonly used in molecular biology as a reporter marker to monitor gene expression. It also exhibits a phenomenon called α-complementation which forms the basis for the blue/white screening of recombinant clones. This enzyme can be split in two peptides, LacZα and LacZΩ, neither of which is active by itself but when both are present together, spontaneously reassemble into a functional enzyme. This property is exploited in many cloning vectors where the presence of the lacZα gene in a plasmid can complement in trans another mutant gene encoding the LacZΩ in specific laboratory strains of E. coli. However, when DNA fragments are inserted in the vector, the production of LacZα is disrupted, the cells therefore show no β-galactosidase activity. The presence or absence of an active β-galactosidase may be detected by X-gal, which produces a characteristic blue dye when cleaved by β-galactosidase, thereby providing an easy means of distinguishing the presence or absence of cloned product in a plasmid.

In 1995, Dimri et al. proposed a new isoform for beta-galactosidase with optimum activity at pH 6.0 (Senescence Associated beta-gal or SA-beta-gal)[3] which would be specifically expressed in senescence (The irreversible growth arrest of cells). Specific quantitative assays were even developed for its detection.[4][5][6] However, it is now known that this is due to an overexpression and accumulation of the lysosomal endogenous beta-galactosidase,[7] and its expression is not required for senescence. Nevertheless, it remains the most widely used biomarker for senescent and aging cells, because it is reliable and easy to detect.


Ribbon diagram of the 3MUY structure.
Ribbon diagram of the 3MUY structure (tetramer), E. coli (lacZ) beta-galactosidase (R599A).[8]

The 1,024 amino acids of E. coli β-galactosidase were first sequenced in 1970,[9] and its structure determined twenty-four years later in 1994. The protein is a 464-kDa homotetramer with 2,2,2-point symmetry.[10] Each unit of β-galactosidase consists of five domains; domain 1 is a jelly-roll type barrel, domain 2 and 4 are fibronectin type III-like barrels, domain 5 a β-sandwich, while the central domain 3 is a TIM-type barrel.

The third domain contains the active site.[11] The active site is made up of elements from two subunits of the tetramer, and disassociation of the tetramer into dimers removes critical elements of the active site. The amino-terminal sequence of β-galactosidase, the α-peptide involved in α-complementation, participates in a subunit interface. Its residues 22-31 help to stabilize a four-helix bundle which forms the major part of that interface, and residue 13 and 15 also contributing to the activating interface. These structural features provide a rationale for the phenomenon of α-complementation, where the deletion of the amino-terminal segment results in the formation of an inactive dimer.


β-galactosidase can catalyze two different reactions in organisms. In one, it can go through a process called transgalactosylation to make allolactose, creating a positive feedback loop for the production of β-gal. It can also hydrolyze lactose into galactose and glucose which will proceed into glycolysis.[12] The active site of β-galactosidase catalyzes the hydrolysis of its disaccharide substrate via "shallow" (nonproductive site) and "deep" (productive site) binding. Galactosides such as PETG and IPTG will bind in shallow site when the enzyme is in "open" conformation while transition state analogs such as L-ribose and D-galactonolactone will bind in deep site when the conformation is "closed".[2]

The enzymatic reaction consists of two chemical steps, galactosylation (k2) and degalactosylation (k3). Galactosylation is the first chemical step in the reaction where Glu461 donates a proton, resulting in galactose covalently bonding with Glu537. In the second step, degalactosylation, the covalent bond is broken when Glu461 accepts a proton, replacing the galactose with water. Two transition states occur in the deep site of the enzyme during the reaction, once after each step. Transgalactosylation occurs when an acceptor other than water participates in the second step.[2]

It has been kinetically measured that single tetramers of the protein catalyze reactions at a rate of 38,500 ± 900 reactions per minute.[12] Monovalent potassium ions (K+) as well as divalent magnesium ions (Mg2+) are required for the enzyme's optimal activity. The beta-linkage of the substrate is cleaved by a terminal carboxyl group on the side chain of a glutamic acid.

In E. coli, Glu-461 was thought to be the nucleophile in the substitution reaction.[13] However, it is now known that Glu-461 is an acid catalyst. Instead, Glu-537 is the actual nucleophile,[14] binding to a galactosyl intermediate. In humans, the nucleophile of the hydrolysis reaction is Glu-268.[15] Gly794 is important for β-gal activity. In the presence of a slow substrate, Gly794 will increase in activity as galactosylation increases and degalactosylation decreases. Its is also responsible for putting the enzyme in an "closed", ligand bounded, conformation or "open" conformation, acting like a "hinge".[2]

β-galactosidase reaction


β-galactosidase is important for organisms as it is used as energy and a prime source of carbons through the break down of lactose to galactose and glucose. It is also important for the lactose intolerant community as it is responsible for making lactose-free milk and other dairy products.[16]

The β-galactosidase assay is used frequently in genetics, molecular biology, and other life sciences. An active enzyme may be detected using X-gal, which forms an intense blue product after cleavage by β-galactosidase, and is easy to identify and quantify. It is used for example in blue white screen.[17] Its production may be induced by a non-hydrolyzable analog of allolactose, IPTG, which binds and releases the lac repressor from the lac operator, thereby allowing the initiation of transcription to proceed.

Since it is highly expressed and accumulated in lysosomes in senescent cells, it is used as a senescence biomarker both in vivo and in vitro in qualitative and quantitative [4] assays, despite its limitations.

In studies of leukaemia chromosomal translocations, Dobson and colleagues used a fusion protein of LacZ in mice,[18] exploiting β-galactosidase's tendency to oligomerise to suggest a potential role for oligomericity in MLL fusion protein function.[19]

Evolved beta-galactosidase[edit]

Some species of bacteria, including E. coli, have additional β-galactosidase genes. A second gene, called evolved β-galactosidase (ebgA) gene was discovered when strains with the lacZ gene deleted (but still containing the gene for galactoside permease, lacY), were plated on medium containing lactose (or other 3-galactosides) as sole carbon source. After a time, certain colonies began to grow. However, the EbgA protein is an ineffective lactase and does not allow growth on lactose. Two classes of single point mutations dramatically improve the activity of ebg enzyme toward lactose.[20][21] and, as a result, the mutant enzyme is able to replace the lacZ β-galactosidase.[22] EbgA and LacZ are 50% identical on the DNA level and 33% identical on the amino acid level.[23] The active ebg enzyme is an aggregate of ebgA -gene and ebgC-gene products in a 1:1 ratio with the active form of ebg enzymes being an α4 β4 hetero-octamer.[24]


  1. ^ Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary. Retrieved 2006-10-22. 
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External links[edit]