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As more bacterial protein glycosylation systems are identified and characterized, a central question that arises is, what governs the prevalence of particular glycans associated with them? In addition, accumulating evidence shows that bacterial protein glycans can be subject to the phenomenon of microheterogeneity, in which variant glycan structures are found at specific attachment sites of a given glycoprotein. Although factors underlying microheterogeneity in reconstituted expression systems have been identified and modeled, those impacting natural systems largely remain enigmatic. On the basis of a sensitive and specific glycan serotyping system, microheterogeneity has been reported for the broad-spectrum, O-linked protein glycosylation system in species within the genus Neisseria. To elucidate the mechanisms involved, a genetic approach was used to identify a hypomorphic allele of pglA (encoding the PglA galactosyltransferase) as a significant contributor to simultaneous expression of multiple glycoforms. Moreover, this phenotype was mapped to a single amino acid polymorphism in PglA. Further analyses revealed that many pglA phase-off variants (containing out-of-frame configurations in simple nucleotide repeats within the open reading frame) were associated with disproportionally high levels of the N,N'-diacetylbacillosamine-Gal disaccharide glycoform generated by PglA. This phenotype is emblematic of nonstandard decoding involving programmed ribosomal frameshifting and/or programmed transcriptional realignment. Together, these findings provide new information regarding the mechanisms of neisserial protein glycan microheterogeneity and the anticipatory nature of contingency loci.


Camilla Johannessen, Michael Koomey, Bente Børud. Hypomorphic glycosyltransferase alleles and recoding at contingency loci influence glycan microheterogeneity in the protein glycosylation system of Neisseria species. Journal of bacteriology. 2012 Sep;194(18):5034-43

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PMID: 22797763

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