Dissecting the mechanism by which glycosyltransferases calalyse mannosyl transfer

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Oxford Chemistry


The linking of sugars to a variety of different proteins has an important influence on the function of cells. The biological catalysts or enzymes that speed up the reactions in which sugars are linked to other molecules are known as glycosyltransferases. Although these enzymes and are industrially and biologically important, they have not been extensively studied because they are difficult to produce in large amounts. In this project we will take advantage of our ability to produce significant quantities of glycosyltransferases that catalyse the transfer of the sugar mannose onto other molecules. The three dimensional structure of these enzymes will be determined and the information will be used to synthesise inhibitors of these biological catalysts and to use molecular engineering techniques to manipulate their biological properties.

Technical Summary

Although mannose-containing polymers are widespread in nature, there is a paucity of structural and mechanistic information on the enzymes that catalyze mannosyltransfer. Recent studies by our three groups [Flint et al. (2005) Nat. Struct. Mol. Biol. 12, 608-14] have begun to unravel the structural basis for the catalytic activity and plasticity of substrate recognition of the retaining GDP-Man transferase, mannosylglycerate synthase, which lays a foundation upon which to dissect mannosyl transfer. This application will build upon our studies on mannosylglycerate synthase and a significant additional body of preliminary data, of both retaining and inverting mannosyltransferases (including one of the key enzymes of glycobiology, dolichyl-phosphate -D-mannose synthase) to dissect the mechanism of action and specificity of mannosyltransferases. This will underpin the engineering of these enzymes to increase their utility as biosynthetic tools, underpin novel therapeutic strategies that target glycan decoration and, and, through the modulation of key enzymes that catalyse mannosyltransfer, provide profound insights into cellular function To date, there are no known selective inhibitors of any retaining glycosyltransferases with sufficient potency to allow modulation of the function of these enzymes in vivo. This void has hampered not only the understanding of the role of mannose decoration in biology, but also the exploitation of mannosyl transfer in drug design. The key goals that will be addressed in this project are: (a) Determine how structure dictates specificity and the mechanism of catalysis of mannosyltransferases (b) Exploitation of such information in the design of new enzyme inhibitors which reflect both structural and mechanistic features (c) Interrogation of the evolution of the mechanisms of mannosyl transfer, and its exploitation in the development of novel biocatalysts.


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Description We developed a detailed understanding of the mechanisms of glycosyltransferases based on a chemical approach. These enzymes are widespread in biology but their mechanism for bond-formation has been poorly understood. By building and using suitable chemical probes, we were able to provide the first experimental evidence for a wholly unexpected mechanism that is rare in traditional chemistry (the SNi). In contrast to the chemistry found in the test tube, nature seems very capable of using this unusual reaction. This has had implications for how we think about these important enzymes and how we can design drugs that block them to treat certain diseases.
Exploitation Route Understanding how these enzymes work informs the corresponding biology and also allows the design of drugs for a class of enzymes that has been one of the most difficult to target to date.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Education,Environment,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

URL http://users.ox.ac.uk/~dplb0149/index.html
Description BGD and group members have appeared on the radio, television, (BBD, Channel 5), science festivals around the world (Cheltenham, Kent, Edinburgh, Times Lit., Sydney) describing this work. We have given talks in schools to inspire the next generation. The work contributed strongly to the expansion of biocatalysts available for use in synthesis and license options on technology agreed with biotech e.g. Prozomix.
First Year Of Impact 2008
Sector Chemicals,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Company Name Glycoform Ltd 
Description drug delivery and glycoprotein specialist; biopharmaceuticals 
Impact Employed >20 people over 10 years and provided a model for how synthetic protein drugs might be constructed and used. The technology for this company has now been used by major US companies.
Website http://isis-innovation.com/news/glycoform-ltd-improve-drug-delivery/