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J Biol Chem. 1991 Dec 5;266(34):23022-6.

The effect of carbohydrate on the structure and stability of erythropoietin.

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  • 1Amgen Inc., Thousand Oaks, California 91320.


Erythropoietin is a glycoprotein hormone that stimulates the maturation of late erythroid progenitor cells. It has three N-linked and one O-linked carbohydrates which play an important role in the biosynthesis and biological activities of the protein. To determine the role the carbohydrate might have in maintaining the conformational stability of the protein, the protein expressed in mammalian cells (fully glycosylated), the asialo mammalian-expressed protein, and the protein expressed in Escherichia coli (no carbohydrate) were compared for their stability to guanidine HCl, pH, and temperature. Circular dichroism was used to follow protein unfolding. Both the intact and asialo mammalian-expressed proteins unfolded with a cooperative transition in guanidine HCl, with a midpoint at 1.75 M guanidine HCl. The E. coli-expressed material unfolded with a midpoint of 1.2 M guanidine HCl, and a delta G of unfolding which was 1.4 kcal/mol less than that of the two glycosylated molecules. The E. coli-derived protein was also significantly less stable to pH-induced conformational changes, showing a cooperative transition in 35% glycerol with a midpoint at pH 4.4, while both the intact and asialo mammalian-expressed molecules had a transition midpoint of pH 3.75 in the absence of glycerol, and approximately pH 3 in the presence of 35% glycerol. The E. coli-expressed molecule unfolded and precipitated upon heating to 44 degrees C, while the asialo and intact mammalian-expressed proteins remained soluble, with a Tm of 56 degrees C. From these experiments, the carbohydrate appears to play a critical role in stabilizing the erythropoietin molecule to denaturing conditions, and this increased stability does not depend on the presence of sialic acid.

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