Expression and Function of the HNK-1 Carbohydrate

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Glycosylation is a major post-translational protein modification, especially for cell surface proteins, which play important roles in a variety of cellular functions, including recognition and adhesion. Among them, we have been interested in HNK-1 (human natural killer-1) carbohydrate, which is characteristically expressed on a series of cell adhesion molecules in the nervous system. The HNK-1 carbohydrate has a unique structural feature, i.e. a sulfated glucuronic acid is attached to the non-reducing terminal of an N-acetyllactosamine residue (HSO3-3GlcAβ1-3Galβ1-4GlcNAc-). We have cloned and characterized the biosynthetic enzymes (two glucuronyltransferases and a sulfotransferase), and also obtained evidence that the HNK-1 carbohydrate is involved in synaptic plasticity and memory formation. In this review, we describe recent findings regarding the expression mechanism and functional roles of this carbohydrate.

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