Structure and function relations with a T-cell-activating polysaccharide antigen using circular dichroism

Glycobiology. 2007 Jan;17(1):46-55. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cwl056. Epub 2006 Sep 21.


Studies centered on understanding how molecular structure affects biological function have historically focused on proteins. Circular dichroism (CD) is commonly used to analyze protein secondary structure, yet its application to other molecules is far less explored. In fact, little is known about how glycan conformation might affect function, likely because of a lack of tools for measuring dynamic structural changes of carbohydrates. In the present study, we developed a method based on CD to monitor conformational changes in the zwitterionic T-cell-activating glycoantigen polysaccharide A1 (PSA). We found that PSA helical structure produces a CD spectrum that is strikingly similar to proteins rich in alpha-helical content and is equally sensitive to nonpolar solvents. Like conventional T-cell-dependent proteins, PSA requires processing before major histocompatibility complex class II (MHCII) binding. CD spectra of PSA fragments of varying sizes indicated that fragments smaller than three repeating units lack helical content and are incapable of MHCII binding. Likewise, neutralization of charged groups in the repeating unit resulted in major conformational changes as measured by CD, which correlated with a lack of MHCII presentation. These data represent two significant findings: CD can be used to measure conformational changes in carbohydrates and the functional epitope from PSA is dependent on a specific conformation that is stabilized by adjacent repeating units and a zwitterionic charge motif. As a result, this work demonstrates that CD is a valuable tool for use in functional glycomics efforts that seek to align chemical and conformational structure with biological activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Circular Dichroism / methods*
  • HLA-DR1 Antigen / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Weight
  • Polysaccharides / chemistry*
  • Polysaccharides / immunology*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Denaturation / physiology
  • Solvents / pharmacology
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Thermodynamics
  • Water / chemistry


  • HLA-DR1 Antigen
  • Polysaccharides
  • Solvents
  • Water