The biogenesis of glycogen in skeletal muscle requires a priming mechanism that has recently been elucidated. The first step is catalysed by a protein tyrosine glucosyltransferase and involves the formation of a novel glycosidic linkage, namely the covalent attachment of glucose to a single tyrosine residue (Tyr194) on a priming protein, termed glycogenin. The next stage is the extension of the glucan chain from Tyr194 and involves the sequential addition of up to seven further glucosyl residues. This reaction is brought about autocatalytically by glycogenin itself, which is a Mn2+/Mg(2+)-dependent UDP-Glc-requiring glucosyltransferase. The glucan primer is elongated by glycogen synthase, but only when glycogenin and glycogen synthase are complexed together. Glycogen synthase dissociates from glycogenin during the synthesis of a glycogen molecule, enabling glycogen molecules to reach their maximum theoretical size. Each mature glycogen beta particle in muscle contains one molecule of glycogenin attached covalently, and an average one glycogen synthase catalytic subunit bound non-covalently. As evidence accumulates that a priming protein may be a fundamental property of polysaccharide synthesis in general, the molecular details of mammalian glycogen biogenesis may serve as a useful model for other systems.
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