The bloodstream form of the human pathogen Trypanosoma brucei expresses oligomannose, paucimannose, and complex N-linked glycans, including some exceptionally large poly-N-acetyllactosamine-containing structures. Despite the presence of complex N-glycans in this organism, no homologues of the canonical N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase I or II genes can be found in the T. brucei genome. These genes encode the activities that initiate the elaboration of the Manα1–3 and Manα1–6 arms, respectively, of the conserved trimannosyl-N-acetylchitobiosyl core of N-linked glycans. Previously, we identified a highly divergent T. brucei N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase I (TbGnTI) among a set of putative T. brucei glycosyltransferase genes belonging to the β3-glycosyltransferase superfamily (Damerow, M., Rodrigues, J. A., Wu, D., Güther, M. L., Mehlert, A., and Ferguson, M. A. (2014) J. Biol. Chem. 289, 9328–9339). Here, we demonstrate that TbGT15, another member of the same β3-glycosyltransferase family, encodes an equally divergent N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase II (TbGnTII) activity. In contrast to multicellular organisms, where GnTII activity is essential, TbGnTII null mutants of T. brucei grow in culture and are still infectious to animals. Characterization of the large poly-N-acetyllactosamine containing N-glycans of the TbGnTII null mutants by methylation linkage analysis suggests that, in wild-type parasites, the Manα1–6 arm of the conserved trimannosyl core may carry predominantly linear poly-N-acetyllactosamine chains, whereas the Manα1–3 arm may carry predominantly branched poly-N-acetyllactosamine chains. These results provide further detail on the structure and biosynthesis of complex N-glycans in an important human pathogen and provide a second example of the adaptation by trypanosomes of β3-glycosyltransferase family members to catalyze β1–2 glycosidic linkages.
Damerow, M., Graalfs, F., Güther, M. L. S., Mehlert, A., Izquierdo, L., & Ferguson, M. A. J. (2016). A gene of the β3-glycosyltransferase family encodes N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase II function in Trypanosoma brucei. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 291(26), 13834–13845. https://doi.org/10.1074/jbc.M116.733246