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Glycobiology. 2019 Feb 1;29(2):137-150. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cwy096.

Transcriptional activation of fucosyltransferase (FUT) genes using the CRISPR-dCas9-VPR technology reveals potent N-glycome alterations in colorectal cancer cells.

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Amsterdam UMC, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Department of Molecular Cell Biology and Immunology, Cancer Center Amsterdam, Amsterdam Infection & Immunity Institute, HZ Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Ludger Ltd, Culham Science Centre, Abingdon, United Kingdom.
Amsterdam UMC, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Oncogenetics, Department of Clinical Genetics, Cancer Center Amsterdam, HV Amsterdam, the Netherlands.


Aberrant fucosylation in cancer cells is considered as a signature of malignant cell transformation and it is associated with tumor progression, metastasis and resistance to chemotherapy. Specifically, in colorectal cancer cells, increased levels of the fucosylated Lewisx antigen are attributed to the deregulated expression of pertinent fucosyltransferases, like fucosyltransferase 4 (FUT4) and fucosyltransferase 9 (FUT9). However, the lack of experimental models closely mimicking cancer-specific regulation of fucosyltransferase gene expression has, so far, limited our knowledge regarding the substrate specificity of these enzymes and the impact of Lewisx synthesis on the glycome of colorectal cancer cells. Therefore, we sought to transcriptionally activate the Fut4 and Fut9 genes in the well-known murine colorectal cancer cell line, MC38, which lacks expression of the FUT4 and FUT9 enzymes. For this purpose, we utilized a physiologically relevant, guide RNA-based model of de novo gene expression, namely the CRISPR-dCas9-VPR system. Induction of the Fut4 and Fut9 genes in MC38 cells using CRISPR-dCas9-VPR resulted in specific neo-expression of functional Lewisx antigen on the cell surface. Interestingly, Lewisx was mainly carried by N-linked glycans in both MC38-FUT4 and MC38-FUT9 cells, despite pronounced differences in the biosynthetic properties and the expression stability of the induced enzymes. Moreover, Lewisx expression was found to influence core-fucosylation, sialylation, antennarity and the subtypes of N-glycans in the MC38-glycovariants. In conclusion, exploiting the CRISPR-dCas9-VPR system to augment glycosyltransferase expression is a promising method of transcriptional gene activation with broad application possibilities in glycobiology and oncology research.


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