Molecular Recognition of GalNAc in Mucin-Type O-Glycosylation
N-Acetylgalactosamine (GalNAc)-type O-glycosylation is an essential posttranslational modification (PTM) that plays fundamental roles in biology. Malfunction of this PTM is exemplified by the presence of truncated O-glycans in cancer. For instance, the glycoprotein MUC1 is overexpressed in many tumor tissues and tends to carry simple oligosaccharides that allow for the presentation of different tumor-associated antigens, such as the Tn or sTn antigens (GalNAc-α-1-O-Thr/Ser and Neu5Acα2-6GalNAcα1-O-Ser/Thr, respectively). In other cases, such as tumoral calcinosis associated with O-glycosylation of the fibroblast growth factor 23, O-glycans are absent or less abundant. Significant progress has been made in determining the three-dimensional structures of biomolecules that recognize GalNAc, such as antibodies, lectins, mucinases, GalNAc-transferases, and other glycosyltransferases. Analysis of the complexes between these entities and GalNAc-containing glycopeptides, in most cases derived from crystallographic or NMR analysis, provides an understanding of the key structural elements that control molecular recognition of these glycopeptides. Here, we describe and compare the binding sites of these proteins in detail, focusing on how the GalNAc moieties interact selectively with them. We also summarize the differences and similarities in GalNAc recognition. In general, the recognition of GalNAc-containing glycopeptides is determined by hydrogen bonds between hydroxyl groups and the N-acetyl group of GalNAc with proteins, as well as CH-π contacts in which the hydrophobic α-face of the sugar and the methyl group of NHAc can be involved. The latter interaction usually provides the basis for selectivity. It is worth noting that binding of these glycopeptides depends primarily on recognition of the sugar moiety, with some exceptions such as a few anti-MUC1 antibodies that primarily recognize the peptide backbone and use the sugar to facilitate shape complementarity or to establish a limited number of interactions with the protein. Focusing specifically on the GalNAc moiety, we can observe that there is some degeneracy of interactions within the same protein families, likely due to substrate flexibility. However, when all studied proteins are considered together, despite the commonalities within each protein family, no pattern can be discerned between the different families, apart from the presence of common residues such as Tyr, His, or Asp, which are responsible for hydrogen bonds. The lack of a pattern can be anticipated, given the diverse functions of mucinases, glycosyltransferases, antibodies, and lectins. Finally, it is important to point out that the conformational differences observed in solution in glycopeptides bearing GalNAc-α-1-O-Ser or GalNAc-α-1-O-Thr also can be found in the bound state. This unique characteristic is exploited, for instance, by the enzyme C1GalT1 to broadly glycosylate both acceptor substrates. The findings summarized in this review may contribute to the rational structure-guided development of therapeutic vaccines, novel diagnostic tools for early cancer detection, and new cancer treatments for cancer with tailored anti-Tn or anti-STn antibodies or new drugs to inhibit GalNAc-T isoenzymes.