NMR studies of the free alpha subunit of human chorionic gonadotropin. Structural influences of N-glycosylation and the beta subunit on the conformation of the alpha subunit

Eur J Biochem. 1996 Oct 1;241(1):229-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1432-1033.1996.0229t.x.


Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is a heterodimeric glycoprotein hormone that is involved in the maintenance of the corpus luteum in early pregnancy. Glycosylation at Asn52 of its alpha subunit (alpha hCG) is essential for signal transduction, whereas the N-glycan at Asn78 stabilizes the structure of the protein. In this study, an almost complete 1H-NMR and a partial 13C-NMR spectral assignment for the amino acids and the N-glycans of alpha hCG and of an enzymatically deglycosylated form, which had a single GlcNAc residue at each of its two glycosylation sites, has been achieved. The secondary structure of alpha hCG is solution, which was determined based on NOE data, is partially similar to that of the alpha subunit in the crystal structure of hCG, but large structural differences are found for amino acid residues 33-58. In the crystal structure of hCG, residues 33-37 and 54-58 of the alpha subunit are part of an intersubunit seven-stranded beta-barrel and residues 41-47 constitute a 3(10)-helix. In contrast, in free alpha hCG in solution, amino acids 33-58 are part of a large disordered loop, indicating that in intact hCG interactions with the beta subunit of hCG stabilize the conformation of the alpha subunit. The NMR data of alpha hCG and its deglycosylated counterpart are very similar, indicating that removal of carbohydrate residues other than GlcNAc-1 does not notably affect the conformation of the protein part. However, numerous 1H-NOEs between the GlcNAc-1 residue at Asn78 and several amino acid residues show that this GlcNAc residue is tightly packed against the protein, being an integral part of the structure of the alpha subunit. 1H-NOEs across the glycosidic linkages of the glycan, resonance-line widths, and 1H and 13C chemical shifts of the other monosaccharides suggest that the remainder of the glycans at Asn78, and the glycans at Asn52 are largely extended in solution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Carbohydrate Sequence
  • Chorionic Gonadotropin / chemistry*
  • Glycoproteins / chemistry
  • Glycosylation
  • Hexosaminidases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Molecular Structure
  • Oligosaccharides / chemistry
  • Polysaccharides / chemistry
  • Protein Conformation*
  • Protein Structure, Secondary


  • Chorionic Gonadotropin
  • Glycoproteins
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Polysaccharides
  • Hexosaminidases
  • endo-beta-glucosaminidase