Brain glycogen serves as a critical glucosamine cache required for protein glycosylation

Cell Metab. 2021 Jul 6;33(7):1404-1417.e9. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2021.05.003. Epub 2021 May 26.


Glycosylation defects are a hallmark of many nervous system diseases. However, the molecular and metabolic basis for this pathology is not fully understood. In this study, we found that N-linked protein glycosylation in the brain is metabolically channeled to glucosamine metabolism through glycogenolysis. We discovered that glucosamine is an abundant constituent of brain glycogen, which functions as a glucosamine reservoir for multiple glycoconjugates. We demonstrated the enzymatic incorporation of glucosamine into glycogen by glycogen synthase, and the release by glycogen phosphorylase by biochemical and structural methodologies, in primary astrocytes, and in vivo by isotopic tracing and mass spectrometry. Using two mouse models of glycogen storage diseases, we showed that disruption of brain glycogen metabolism causes global decreases in free pools of UDP-N-acetylglucosamine and N-linked protein glycosylation. These findings revealed fundamental biological roles of brain glycogen in protein glycosylation with direct relevance to multiple human diseases of the central nervous system.

Keywords: Lafora disease; MALDI imaging; N-linked glycosylation; antibody-enzyme therapy; brain metabolism; childhood dementia; glucosamine; glycogen metabolism; glycogen storage disease; polyglucosan body.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Glucosamine / metabolism*
  • Glycogen / metabolism
  • Glycogen / physiology*
  • Glycogen Synthase / genetics
  • Glycogen Synthase / metabolism
  • Glycogenolysis / genetics
  • Glycosylation
  • Lafora Disease / genetics
  • Lafora Disease / metabolism
  • Lafora Disease / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational* / genetics


  • Glycogen
  • Glycogen Synthase
  • Glucosamine