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Genes Dev. 1993 Mar;7(3):468-78.

Expression of the developmental I antigen by a cloned human cDNA encoding a member of a beta-1,6-N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase gene family.

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  • 1La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation, Cancer Research Center, California 92037.


The blood group i/I antigens were the first identified alloantigens that display a dramatic change during human development. The i and I antigens are determined by linear and branched poly-N-acetyllactosaminoglycans, respectively. In human erythrocytes during embryonic development, the fetal (i) antigen is replaced by the adult (I) antigen as a result of the appearance of a beta-1,6-N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase, the I-branching enzyme. Here, we report the cDNA cloning and expression of this branching enzyme that converts linear into branched poly-N-acetyllactosaminoglycans, thus introducing the I antigen in transfected cells. The cDNA sequence predicts a protein with type II membrane topology as has been found for all other mammalian glycosyltransferases cloned to date. The Chinese hamster ovary cells that stably express the isolated cDNA acquire I-branched structures as evidenced by the structural analysis of glycopeptides from these cells. Comparison of the amino acid sequence with those of other glycosyltransferases revealed that this I-branching enzyme and another beta-1,6-N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase that forms a branch in O-glycans are strongly homologous in the center of their putative catalytic domains. Moreover, the genes encoding these two beta-1,6-N-acetylglucosaminyltransferases were found to be located at the same locus on chromosome 9, band q21. These results indicate that the I-branching enzyme represents a member of a beta-1,6-N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase gene family of which expression is controlled by developmental programs.

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