N-glycoprotein biosynthesis in plants: recent developments and future trends

Plant Mol Biol. 1998 Sep;38(1-2):31-48.


N-glycosylation is a major modification of proteins in plant cells. This process starts in the endoplasmic reticulum by the co-translational transfer of a precursor oligosaccharide to specific asparagine residues of the nascent polypeptide chain. Processing of this oligosaccharide into high-mannose-type, paucimannosidic-type, hybrid-type or complex-type N-glycans occurs in the secretory pathway as the glycoprotein moves from the endoplasmic reticulum to its final destination. At the end of their maturation, some plant N-glycans have typical structures that differ from those found in their mammalian counterpart by the absence of sialic acid and the presence of beta(1,2)-xylose and alpha( 1,3)-fucose residues. Glycosidases and glycosyltransferases that respectively catalyse the stepwise trimming and addition of sugar residues are generally considered as working in a co-ordinated and highly ordered fashion to form mature N-glycans. On the basis of this assembly line concept, fast progress is currently made by using N-linked glycan structures as milestones of the intracellular transport of proteins along the plant secretory pathway. Further developments of this approach will need to more precisely define the topological distribution of glycosyltransferases within a plant Golgi stack. In contrast with their acknowledged role in the targeting of lysosomal hydrolases in mammalian cells, N-glycans have no specific function in the transport of glycoproteins into the plant vacuole. However, the presence of N-glycans, regardless of their structures, is necessary for an efficient secretion of plant glycoproteins. In the biotechnology field, transgenic plants are rapidly emerging as an important system for the production of recombinant glycoproteins intended for therapeutic purposes, which is a strong motivation to speed up research in plant glycobiology. In this regard, the potential and limits of plant cells as a factory for the production of mammalian glycoproteins will be illustrated.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biochemistry / trends
  • Carbohydrate Conformation
  • Carbohydrate Sequence
  • Glycoproteins / biosynthesis*
  • Glycoproteins / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Molecular Biology / trends*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Plant Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Plant Proteins / chemistry
  • Plants / chemistry
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • Protein Engineering / trends


  • Glycoproteins
  • Plant Proteins