Functional states of homooligomers: insights from the evolution of glycosyltransferases

J Mol Biol. 2010 May 28;399(1):196-206. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2010.03.059. Epub 2010 Apr 8.


Glycosylation is an important aspect of epigenetic regulation. Glycosyltransferase is a key enzyme in the biosynthesis of glycans, which glycosylates more than half of all proteins in eukaryotes and is involved in a wide range of biological processes. It has been suggested previously that homooligomerization in glycosyltransferases and other proteins might be crucial for their function. In this study, we explore functional homooligomeric states of glycosyltransferases in various organisms, trace their evolution, and perform comparative analyses to find structural features that can mediate or disrupt the formation of different homooligomers. First, we make a structure-based classification of the diverse superfamily of glycosyltransferases and confirm that the majority of the structures are indeed clustered into the GT-A or GT-B folds. We find that homooligomeric glycosyltransferases appear to be as ancient as monomeric glycosyltransferases and go back in evolution to the last universal common ancestor (LUCA). Moreover, we show that interface residues have significant bias to be gapped out or unaligned in the monomers, implying that they might represent features crucial for oligomer formation. Structural analysis of these features reveals that the majority of them represent loops, terminal regions, and helices, indicating that these secondary-structure elements mediate the formation of glycosyltransferases' homooligomers and directly contribute to the specific binding. We also observe relatively short protein regions that disrupt the homodimer interactions, although such cases are rare. These results suggest that relatively small structural changes in the nonconserved regions may contribute to the formation of different functional oligomeric states and might be important in regulation of enzyme activity through homooligomerization.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Databases, Protein
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Glycosyltransferases / chemistry*
  • Glycosyltransferases / genetics
  • Glycosyltransferases / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Alignment


  • Glycosyltransferases