Cell surfaces are covered with a dense carbohydrate layer referred to as the glycocalyx. Because different cell types express different glycan signatures, it is of paramount importance to have robust methods to analyze the glycome of living cells. To achieve this, a common procedure involves cell lysis and extraction of membrane (glyco)proteins and yields a major proportion of high-mannose N-glycans that most likely stem from intracellular proteins derived from the ER. Using HEK 293 cells as a model system, we developed a reproducible, sensitive, and fast method to profile surface N-glycosylation from living cells. We directly released glycopeptides from cell surfaces through tryptic digestion of freshly harvested and vital cells, thereby improving the detection and quantification of complex-type N-glycans by increasing their relative amount from 14 to 85%. It was also possible to detect 25 additional structures in HEK 293, 48 in AGE1.HN, 42 in CHO-K1, and 51 in Hep G2 cells. The additional signals provided deeper insight into cell-type-specific N-glycan features such as antennarity, fucosylation, and sialylation. Thus, this protocol, which can potentially be applied to any cells, will be useful in the fields of glycobiotechnology and biomarker discovery.
Keywords: Cell surface; MALDI-TOF-MS; N-glycosylation; glycocalyx.