A critical perspective of the diverse roles of O-GlcNAc transferase in chromatin

Chromosoma. 2015 Dec;124(4):429-42. doi: 10.1007/s00412-015-0513-1. Epub 2015 Apr 18.


O-linked β-N-Acetylglucosamine (O-GlcNAc) is a posttranslational modification that is catalyzed by O-GlcNAc transferase (Ogt) and found on a plethora of nuclear and cytosolic proteins in animals and plants. Studies in different model organisms revealed that while O-GlcNAc is required for selected processes in Caenorhabditis elegans and Drosophila, it has evolved to become required for cell viability in mice, and this has challenged investigations to identify cellular functions that critically require this modification in mammals. Nevertheless, a principal cellular process that engages O-GlcNAcylation in all of these species is the regulation of gene transcription. Here, we revisit several of the primary experimental observations that led to current models of how O-GlcNAcylation affects gene expression. In particular, we discuss the role of the stable association of Ogt with the transcription factors Hcf1 and Tet, the two main Ogt-interacting proteins in nuclei of mammalian cells. We also critically evaluate the evidence that specific residues on core histones, including serine 112 of histone 2B (H2B-S112), are O-GlcNAcylated in vivo and discuss possible physiological effects of these modifications. Finally, we review our understanding of the role of O-GlcNAcylation in Drosophila, where recent studies suggest that the developmental defects in Ogt mutants are all caused by lack of O-GlcNAcylation of a single transcriptional regulator, the Polycomb repressor protein Polyhomeotic (Ph). Collectively, this reexamination of the experimental evidence suggests that a number of recently propagated models about the role of O-GlcNAcylation in transcriptional control should be treated cautiously.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromatin / metabolism*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • N-Acetylglucosaminyltransferases / metabolism*
  • N-Acetylglucosaminyltransferases / physiology
  • Polycomb Repressive Complex 1
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational


  • Chromatin
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Histones
  • ph-d protein, Drosophila
  • Polycomb Repressive Complex 1
  • N-Acetylglucosaminyltransferases
  • O-GlcNAc transferase