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The glycan determinant CD15 (also known as Lewis x, or Le(x)) is a distinguishing marker for human myeloid cells and mediates neutrophil adhesion to dendritic cells. Despite broad interest in this structure, the mechanisms underlying CD15 expression remain relatively uncharacterized. Accordingly, we investigated the molecular basis of increasing CD15 expression associated with human myeloid cell differentiation. Flow cytometric analysis of differentiating cells together with biochemical studies using inhibitors of glycan synthesis and of sialidases showed that increased CD15 expression is not due to de novo biosynthesis of CD15, but results predominantly from induction of alpha(2-3)-sialidase activity, which yields CD15 from cell-surface sialyl-CD15 (also known as sialyl-Lewis x, sLe(x) or CD15s). This differentiation-associated conversion of surface CD15s to CD15 occurs mainly on glycoproteins. Until now, modulation of post-translational glycan modifications has been attributed solely to dynamic variations in glycosyltransferase expression. Our results unveil a new paradigm by demonstrating a critical role for post-Golgi membrane glycosidase activity in the 'biosynthesis' of a key glycan determinant.


Samah Zeineb Gadhoum, Robert Sackstein. CD15 expression in human myeloid cell differentiation is regulated by sialidase activity. Nature chemical biology. 2008 Dec;4(12):751-7

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PMID: 18953356

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