Giant virus Megavirus chilensis encodes the biosynthetic pathway for uncommon acetamido sugars

J Biol Chem. 2014 Aug 29;289(35):24428-39. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M114.588947. Epub 2014 Jul 17.


Giant viruses mimicking microbes, by the sizes of their particles and the heavily glycosylated fibrils surrounding their capsids, infect Acanthamoeba sp., which are ubiquitous unicellular eukaryotes. The glycans on fibrils are produced by virally encoded enzymes, organized in gene clusters. Like Mimivirus, Megavirus glycans are mainly composed of virally synthesized N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc). They also contain N-acetylrhamnosamine (RhaNAc), a rare sugar; the enzymes involved in its synthesis are encoded by a gene cluster specific to Megavirus close relatives. We combined activity assays on two enzymes of the pathway with mass spectrometry and NMR studies to characterize their specificities. Mg534 is a 4,6-dehydratase 5-epimerase; its three-dimensional structure suggests that it belongs to a third subfamily of inverting dehydratases. Mg535, next in the pathway, is a bifunctional 3-epimerase 4-reductase. The sequential activity of the two enzymes leads to the formation of UDP-l-RhaNAc. This study is another example of giant viruses performing their glycan synthesis using enzymes different from their cellular counterparts, raising again the question of the origin of these pathways.

Keywords: Carbohydrate Metabolism; Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS); Glycosylation; Mass Spectrometry (MS); Megavirus Chilensis; N-Acetyl-L-Rhamnosamine; Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR); UDP-N-acetylglucosamine; Virus Structure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Biosynthetic Pathways
  • Carbohydrates / biosynthesis*
  • Carbohydrates / chemistry
  • DNA Viruses / genetics*
  • DNA Viruses / metabolism
  • Genome, Viral*
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid


  • Carbohydrates

Associated data

  • PDB/2GN4
  • PDB/4G5H
  • PDB/4J2O