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Glycoconj J. 2005 Nov;22(7-9):383-94.

N-Glycans carried by Tamm-Horsfall glycoprotein have a crucial role in the defense against urinary tract diseases.

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Department of Experimental Pathology, University of Bologna, Italy.


Tamm-Horsfall glycoprotein (THGP), produced exclusively by renal cells from the thick ascending limb of Henle's loop, is attached by a glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchor to the luminal face of the cells. Urinary excretion of THGP (50-100 mg/day) occurs upon proteolytic cleavage of the large ectodomain of the GPI-anchored form. N-Glycans, consisting of a large repertoire of sialylated polyantennary chains and high-mannose structures, account for approximately 30% of the weight of human urinary THGP. We describe: (i) the involvement of urinary THGP high-mannose glycans in defense against infections of the urinary tract, caused by type-1 fimbriated Escherichia coli, which recognize high-mannose structures, (ii) the role of GalNAcbeta1-4(NeuAcalpha2-3)Galbeta1-4GlcNAcbeta1-3Gal (Sd(a) determinant) carried by human THGP in protecting the distal nephron from colonization of type-S fimbriated E. coli which recognise NeuAcalpha2-3Gal, (iii) the inhibitory effect of sialylated THGP on crystal aggregation of calcium oxalate and calcium phosphate, thus preventing nephrolithiasis. Finally, we outline the importance of N-glycans in promoting the polymerization of THGP, a process resulting in the formation of homopolymers with an M(r) of several million in urine. Since THGP defense against diseases of the urinary tract mainly consists in binding damaging agents, its ability to behave as a multivalent ligand significantly enhances this protective role.

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