Clostridium cellulolyticum produces cellulolytic complexes (cellulosomes) made of 10-13 cell wall degrading enzymes tightly bound to a scaffolding protein (CipC) by means of their dockerin domain. It has previously been shown that the receptor domains in CipC are the cohesin domains and that the cohesin/dockerin interaction is calcium-dependent. In the present study, surface plasmon resonance was used to demonstrate that the free cohesin1 from CipC and dockerin from CelA have the same K(D) (2.5 x 10(-)(10) M) as that of the entire CelA and a larger fragment of CipC, the latter of which contains, in addition to cohesin1, a cellulose binding domain and a hydrophilic domain of unknown function. This demonstrates that neither the catalytic domain of CelA nor the noncohesin domains of CipC have any influence on the interaction. Dockerin domains are composed of two conserved segments of 22 residues: removal of the second segment abolishes the affinity for cohesin1, whereas modified dockerins having twice the first segment, twice the second, or both segments but in a reverse order have K(D) values for cohesin1 in the same range as that observed for wild-type dockerin. These data indicate that if two segments are required for the complexation with the cohesin, segments 1 and 2 are similar enough to replace each other. Calcium overlay experiments revealed that the dockerin domain has one calcium binding site per conserved segment. Circular dichroism performed on wild-type and mutant dockerins indicates that this domain is well structured and that removal of calcium only weakly affects the secondary structure, which remains 40-45% helical.