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The glycoprotein α-dystroglycan helps to link the intracellular cytoskeleton to the extracellular matrix. A unique glycan structure attached to this protein is required for its interaction with extracellular matrix proteins such as laminin. Up to now, this is the only mammalian glycan known to contain ribitol phosphate groups. Enzymes in the Golgi apparatus use CDP-ribitol to incorporate ribitol phosphate into the glycan chain of α-dystroglycan. Since CDP-ribitol is synthesized in the cytoplasm, we hypothesized that an unknown transporter must be required for its import into the Golgi apparatus. We discovered that CDP-ribitol transport relies on the CMP-sialic acid transporter SLC35A1 and the transporter SLC35A4 in a redundant manner. These two transporters are closely related, but bulky residues in the predicted binding pocket of SLC35A4 limit its size. We hypothesized that the large binding pocket SLC35A1 might accommodate the bulky CMP-sialic acid and the smaller CDP-ribitol, whereas SLC35A4 might only accept CDP-ribitol. To test this, we expressed SLC35A1 with mutations in its binding pocket in SLC35A1 KO cell lines. When we restricted the binding site of SLC35A1 by introducing the bulky residues present in SLC35A4, the mutant transporter was unable to support sialylation of proteins in cells but still supported ribitol phosphorylation. This demonstrates that the size of the binding pocket determines the substrate specificity of SLC35A1, allowing a variety of cytosine nucleotide conjugates to be transported. The redundancy with SLC35A4 also explains why patients with SLC35A1 mutations do not show symptoms of α-dystroglycan deficiency. Copyright © 2021 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Benoît Ury, Sven Potelle, Francesco Caligiore, Matthew R Whorton, Guido T Bommer. The promiscuous binding pocket of SLC35A1 ensures redundant transport of CDP-ribitol to the Golgi. The Journal of biological chemistry. 2021 Jan-Jun;296:100789

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PMID: 34015330

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