Conserved domains of glycosyltransferases

Glycobiology. 1999 Oct;9(10):961-78. doi: 10.1093/glycob/9.10.961.


Glycosyltransferases catalyze the synthesis of glycoconjugates by transferring a properly activated sugar residue to an appropriate acceptor molecule or aglycone for chain initiation and elongation. The acceptor can be a lipid, a protein, a heterocyclic compound, or another carbohydrate residue. A catalytic reaction is believed to involve the recognition of both the donor and acceptor by suitable domains, as well as the catalytic site of the enzyme. To elucidate the structural requirements for substrate recognition and catalytic reactions of glycosyltransferases, we have searched the databases for homologous sequences, identified conserved amino acid residues, and proposed potential domain motifs for these enzymes. Depending on the configuration of the anomeric functional group of the glycosyl donor molecule and of the resulting glycoconjugate, all known glycosyltransferases can be divided into two major types: retaining glycosyltransferases, which transfer sugar residue with the retention of anomeric configuration, and inverting glycosyltransferases, which transfer sugar residue with the inversion of anomeric configuration. One conserved domain of the inverting glycosyltransferases identified in the database is responsible for the recognition of a pyrimidine nucleotide, which is either the UDP or the TDP portion of a donor sugar-nucleotide molecule. This domain is termed "Nucleotide Recognition Domain 1 beta," or NRD1 beta, since the type of nucleotide is the only common structure among the sugar donors and acceptors. NRD1 beta is present in 140 glycosyltransferases. The central portion of the NRD1 beta domain is very similar to the domain that is present in one family of retaining glycosyltransferases. This family is termed NRD1 alpha to designate the similarity and stereochemistry of sugar transfer, and it consists of 77 glycosyltransferases identified thus far. In the central portion there is a homologous region for these two families and this region probably has a catalytic function. A third conserved domain is found exclusively in membrane-bound glycosyltransferases and is termed NRD2; this domain is present in 98 glycosyltransferases. All three identified NRDs are present in archaebacterial, eubacterial, viral, and eukaryotic glycosyltransferases. The present article presents the alignment of conserved NRD domains and also presents a brief overview of the analyzed glycosyltransferases which comprise about 65% of all known sugar-nucleotide dependent (Leloir-type) and putative glycosyltransferases in different databases. A potential mechanism for the catalytic reaction is also proposed. This proposed mechanism should facilitate the design of experiments to elucidate the regulatory mechanisms of glycosylation reactions. Amino acid sequence information within the conserved domain may be utilized to design degenerate primers for identifying DNA encoding new glycosyltransferases.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Carbohydrate Sequence
  • Catalytic Domain
  • Conserved Sequence
  • DNA / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Glycosyltransferases / chemistry*
  • Glycosyltransferases / classification
  • Glycosyltransferases / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Models, Chemical
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Substrate Specificity


  • DNA
  • Glycosyltransferases