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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2006 Apr;1760(4):560-7. Epub 2006 Jan 20.

The role of O-linked and N-linked oligosaccharides on the structure-function of glycoprotein hormones: development of agonists and antagonists.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Genetics, Carmel Medical Center and the Faculty of Medicine, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa.


Thyrotropin (TSH) and the gonadotropins; follitropin (FSH), lutropin (LH) and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) are a family of heterodimeric glycoprotein hormones. These hormones composed of two noncovalently linked subunits; a common alpha and a hormone specific beta subunits. Assembly of the subunits is vital to the function of these hormones. However, genetic fusion of the alpha and beta subunits of hFSH, hCG and hTSH resulted in active polypeptides. The glycoprotein hormone subunits contain one (TSH and LH) or two (alpha, FSHbeta and hCGbeta) asparagine-linked (N-linked) oligosaccharides. CGbeta subunit is distinguished among the beta subunits because of the presence of a carboxyl-terminal peptide (CTP) bearing four O-linked oligosaccharide chains. To examine the role of the oligosaccharide chains on the structure-function of glycoprotein hormones, chemical, enzymatic and site-directed mutagenesis were used. The results indicated that O-linked oligosaccharides play a minor role in receptor binding and signal transduction of the glycoprotein hormones. In contrast, the O-linked oligosaccharides are critical for in vivo half-life and bioactivity. Ligation of the CTP bearing four O-linked oligosaccharide sites to different proteins, resulted in enhancing the in vivo bioactivity and half-life of the proteins. The N-linked oligosaccharide chains have a minor role in receptor binding of glycoprotein hormones, but they are critical for bioactivity. Moreover, glycoprotein hormones lacking N-linked oligosaccharides behave as antagonists. In conclusion, the O-linked oligosaccharides are not important for in vitro bioactivity or receptor binding, but they play an important role in the in vivo bioactivity and half-life of the glycoprotein hormones. Addition of the O-linked oligosaccharide chains to the backbone of glycoprotein hormones could be an interesting strategy for designing long acting agonists of glycoprotein hormones. On the other hand, the N-linked oligosaccharides are not important for receptor binding, but they are critical for bioactivity of glycoprotein hormones. Deletion of the N-linked oligosaccharides resulted in the development of glycoprotein hormone antagonists. In the case of hTSH, development of an antagonist may offer a novel therapeutic strategy in the treatment of thyrotoxicosis caused by Graves' disease and TSH secreting pituitary adenoma.

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