Glycoproteins in animal cells contain a variety of glycan structures that are added co- and/or posttranslationally to proteins. Of over 20 different types of sugar-amino acid linkages known, the two major types are N-glycans (Asn-linked) and O-glycans (Ser/Thr-linked). An abnormal mucin-type O-glycan whose expression is associated with cancer and several human disorders is the Tn antigen. It has a relatively simple structure composed of N-acetyl-D-galactosamine with a glycosidic α linkage to serine/threonine residues in glycoproteins (GalNAcα1-O-Ser/Thr), and was one of the first glycoconjugates to be chemically synthesized. The Tn antigen is normally modified by a specific galactosyltransferase (T-synthase) in the Golgi apparatus of cells. Expression of active T-synthase is uniquely dependent on the molecular chaperone Cosmc, which is encoded by a gene on the X chromosome. Expression of the Tn antigen can arise as a consequence of mutations in the genes for T-synthase or Cosmc, or genes affecting other steps of O-glycosylation pathways. Because of the association of the Tn antigen with disease, there is much interest in the development of Tn-based vaccines and other therapeutic approaches based on Tn expression.
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