Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Structure reveals how cells 'sugar-coat' proteins

Biologists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, Stony Brook University, and the University of Wurzburg, Germany, have deciphered the structure of a large protein complex responsible for adding sugar molecules to newly formed proteins - a process essential to many proteins' functions.

The structure offers insight into the molecular "sugar-coating" mechanism, and may help scientists better understand a variety of diseases that result when the process goes awry. The research will appear in the March 12, 2008, issue of the journal Structure.

"Proteins perform their functions by interacting at their surfaces with other molecules. So you can imagine that adding or removing sugar molecules will change the protein's surface structure, and therefore its function," said Huilin Li, a biologist at Brookhaven Lab who holds a joint appointment at Stony Brook and is co-corresponding author on the Structure paper. "Messing up this process can lead to the production of malformed proteins that are unable to do their jobs," he added.

The results can be devastating. Failure of glycosylation, as the "sugar-coating" process is known, can lead to a variety of genetic disorders characterized by neurological problems including seizures and stroke-like episodes, feeding disorders, and possibly even some forms of muscular dystrophy.

"We studied one enzyme involved in glycosylation, the one that recognizes the protein sequence and adds the sugar chains to the protein as it is being synthesized by the cell," said William J. Lennarz of Stony Brook University, a coauthor on the paper. "The challenge is that the enzyme, known as oligosaccharide transferase (OT), is large by protein standards, has eight intricately linked components, and sits embedded in a membrane within the cell's protein-manufacturing machinery."

"Membrane proteins, particularly large ones, are very difficult to study structurally," added Li.

So the scientists turned to a technique called cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), which shows great promise in deciphering large membrane protein structures.

"We imaged the purified OT complex by cryo-EM and obtained a first snapshot of the complex by computer reconstruction of the micrographs," said Li, a cryo-EM expert.

In cryo-EM, he explained, samples are frozen in vitreous ice and maintained at cryogenic temperatures (-274° Fahrenheit) using liquid nitrogen while the samples are photographed in the high vacuum of an electron microscope. The sophisticated cryo-EM machine resides in Brookhaven Lab's biology department. Li and his collaborators also measured the mass of the OT complex at Brookhaven's Scanning Transmission Electron Microscope (STEM) facility.

The structure deciphered by the group helps to explain many biochemical phenomena observed about the enzyme complex over the past two decades. It also offers hints as to how the enzyme performs its various jobs, from recognizing the sugar molecules to be added to the protein, scanning the protein as it is formed to identify the sites where sugars should be attached, and transferring the sugar molecules to the protein at the right positions.

"OT physically associates with the protein translocation channel which moves a protein across a membrane and the cell's protein synthesis machinery, forming an efficient three-machine assembly line for protein translation, translocation, and glycosylation," Li said.

The researchers say further research is needed to illuminate the molecular mechanisms of disorders of glycosylation involving oligosaccharide transferase. For example, they would like to do structural studies of the enzyme at higher resolution in complex with substrates or in association with the cell's protein translocation and protein synthesis machinery. A new facility Brookhaven Lab hopes to begin construction on next year, known as the National Synchrotron Light Source II, would greatly increase the precision of this work.

Karen McNulty Walsh | EurekAlert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Brookhaven Complex cryo-EM enzyme glycosylation structure sugar

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'
16.03.2018 | Emory Health Sciences

nachricht Scientists map the portal to the cell's nucleus
16.03.2018 | Rockefeller University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>