In the halophilic archaea Haloferax volcanii, the surface (S)-layer glycoprotein can be modified by two distinct N-linked glycans. The tetrasaccharide attached to S-layer glycoprotein Asn-498 comprises a sulfated hexose, two hexoses and a rhamnose. While Agl11-14 have been implicated in the appearance of the terminal rhamnose subunit, the precise roles of these proteins have yet to be defined. Accordingly, a series of in vitro assays conducted with purified Agl11-Agl14 showed these proteins to catalyze the stepwise conversion of glucose-1-phosphate to dTDP-rhamnose, the final sugar of the tetrasaccharide glycan. Specifically, Agl11 is a glucose-1-phosphate thymidylyltransferase, Agl12 is a dTDP-glucose-4,6-dehydratase and Agl13 is a dTDP-4-dehydro-6-deoxy- glucose-3,5-epimerase, while Agl14 is a dTDP-4-dehydrorhamnose reductase. Archaea thus synthesize nucleotide-activated rhamnose by a pathway similar to that employed by Bacteria and distinct from that used by Eukarya and viruses. Moreover, a bioinformatics screen identified homologues of agl11-14 clustered in other archaeal genomes, often as part of an extended gene cluster also containing aglB, encoding the archaeal oligosaccharyltransferase. This points to rhamnose as being a component of N-linked glycans in Archaea other than Hfx. volcanii.
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