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The molecular mechanism(s) underlying the enhanced self-interactions of mucins possessing the Tn (GalNAcα1-Ser/Thr) or STn (NeuNAcα2-6GalNAcα1-Ser/Thr) cancer markers were investigated using optical tweezers (OT). The mucins examined included modified porcine submaxillary mucin containing the Tn epitope (Tn-PSM), ovine submaxillary mucin with the STn epitope (STn-OSM), and recombinant MUC1 analogs with either the Tn and STn epitope. OT experiments in which the mucins were immobilized onto polystyrene beads revealed identical self-interaction characteristics for all mucins. Identical binding strength and energy landscape characteristics were also observed for synthetic polymers displaying multiple GalNAc decorations. Polystyrene beads without immobilized mucins showed no self-interactions and also no interactions with mucin-decorated polystyrene beads. Taken together, the experimental data suggest that in these molecules, the GalNAc residue mediates interactions independent of the anchoring polymer backbone. Furthermore, GalNAc-GalNAc interactions appear to be responsible for self-interactions of mucins decorated with the STn epitope. Hence, Tn-MUC1 and STn-MUC1 undergo self-interactions mediated by the GalNAc residue in both epitopes, suggesting a possible molecular role in cancer. MUC1 possessing the T (Galβ1-3GalNAcα1-Ser/Thr) or ST antigen (NeuNAcα2-3Galβ1-3GalNAcα1-Ser/Thr) failed to show self-interactions. However, in the case of ST-MUC1, self-interactions were observed after subsequent treatment with neuraminidase and β-galactosidase. This enzymatic treatment is expected to introduce Tn-epitopes and these observations thus further strengthen the conclusion that the observed interactions are mediated by the GalNAc groups. © The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail:


Kristin E Haugstad, Soosan Hadjialirezaei, Bjørn T Stokke, C Fred Brewer, Thomas A Gerken, Joy Burchell, Gianfranco Picco, Marit Sletmoen. Interactions of mucins with the Tn or Sialyl Tn cancer antigens including MUC1 are due to GalNAc-GalNAc interactions. Glycobiology. 2016 Dec;26(12):1338-1350

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PMID: 27282157

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