Identification, tissue distribution, and molecular modeling of novel human isoforms of the key enzyme in sialic acid synthesis, UDP-GlcNAc 2-epimerase/ManNAc kinase

Biochemistry. 2011 Oct 18;50(41):8914-25. doi: 10.1021/bi201050u. Epub 2011 Sep 19.


UDP-GlcNAc 2-epimerase/ManNAc kinase (GNE) catalyzes the first two committed steps in sialic acid synthesis. In addition to the three previously described human GNE isoforms (hGNE1-hGNE3), our database and polymerase chain reaction analysis yielded five additional human isoforms (hGNE4-hGNE8). hGNE1 is the ubiquitously expressed major isoform, while the hGNE2-hGNE8 isoforms are differentially expressed and may act as tissue-specific regulators of sialylation. hGNE2 and hGNE7 display a 31-residue N-terminal extension compared to hGNE1. On the basis of similarities to kinases and helicases, this extension does not seem to hinder the epimerase enzymatic active site. hGNE3 and hGNE8 contain a 55-residue N-terminal deletion and a 50-residue N-terminal extension compared to hGNE1. The size and secondary structures of these fragments are similar, and modeling predicted that these modifications do not affect the overall fold compared to that of hGNE1. However, the epimerase enzymatic activity of GNE3 and GNE8 is likely absent, because the deleted fragment contains important substrate binding residues in homologous bacterial epimerases. hGNE5-hGNE8 have a 53-residue deletion, which was assigned a role in substrate (UDP-GlcNAc) binding. Deletion of this fragment likely eliminates epimerase enzymatic activity. Our findings imply that GNE is subject to evolutionary mechanisms to improve cellular functions, without increasing the number of genes. Our expression and modeling data contribute to elucidation of the complex functional and regulatory mechanisms of human GNE and may contribute to further elucidating the pathology and treatment strategies of the human GNE-opathies sialuria and hereditary inclusion body myopathy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Carbohydrate Epimerases / chemistry
  • Catalysis
  • Catalytic Domain
  • DNA, Complementary / metabolism
  • Gene Deletion
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid / chemistry*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Tissue Distribution


  • DNA, Complementary
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Carbohydrate Epimerases
  • UDP acetylglucosamine-2-epimerase
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid