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Blood. 1991 Jun 15;77(12):2624-32.

The importance of N- and O-linked oligosaccharides for the biosynthesis and in vitro and in vivo biologic activities of erythropoietin.

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  • 1Genetics Institute, Cambridge, MA 02140.


Erythropoietin (EPO) plays a critical role in stimulating the proliferation and differentiation of erythroid precursor cells. EPO is heavily glycosylated with three asparagine (N)-linked tetraantennary oligosaccharides that may contain N-acetyl-lactosamine repeats and a single serine (O)-linked oligosaccharide. EPO expressed in Chinese hamster ovary cells exhibits biologic properties and amino acid and carbohydrate composition similar to natural urinary EPO. The importance of the complex N-linked and the O-linked carbohydrate was studied by expressing EPO in cells that are deficient in UDP-galactose/UDP-N-acetylgalactosamine 4-epimerase activity. In these cells, the ability to add galactose and N-acetylgalactosamine to glycoproteins can be controlled by the addition of these sugars to the culture medium. The results demonstrate that a block in O-linked glycosylation and/or the ability to process N-linked carbohydrate to completion does not alter EPO secretion. EPO produced without O-linked carbohydrate exhibits normal in vitro and in vivo biologic activity and in vivo clearance. However, EPO produced with incompletely processed N-linked oligosaccharides exhibits normal in vitro activity but is at least 500-fold less effective in stimulating erythropoiesis in vivo. Studies on the survival of bioactive EPO remaining in the circulation demonstrated that EPO with incomplete N-linked oligosaccharides exhibits a sevenfold increased rate of clearance. However, this increased clearance may not fully account for the 500-fold loss of in vivo activity. These results suggest a potentially important unique requirement for appropriate complex N-linked oligosaccharides for the intrinsic biologic activity of EPO in vivo.

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