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Glycan–protein cross-linking mass spectrometry reveals sialic acid-mediated protein networks on cell surfaces


A cross-linking method is developed to elucidate glycan-mediated interactions between membrane proteins through sialic acids. The method provides information on previously unknown extensive glycomic interactions on cell membranes. The vast majority of membrane proteins are glycosylated with complicated glycan structures attached to the polypeptide backbone. Glycan-protein interactions are fundamental elements in many cellular events. Although significant advances have been made to identify protein-protein interactions in living cells, only modest advances have been made on glycan-protein interactions. Mechanistic elucidation of glycan-protein interactions has thus far remained elusive. Therefore, we developed a cross-linking mass spectrometry (XL-MS) workflow to directly identify glycan-protein interactions on the cell membrane using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS). This method involved incorporating azido groups on cell surface glycans through biosynthetic pathways, followed by treatment of cell cultures with a synthesized reagent, N-hydroxysuccinimide (NHS)-cyclooctyne, which allowed the cross-linking of the sialic acid azides on glycans with primary amines on polypeptide backbones. The coupled peptide-glycan-peptide pairs after cross-linking were identified using the latest techniques in glycoproteomic and glycomic analyses and bioinformatics software. With this approach, information on the site of glycosylation, the glycoform, the source protein, and the target protein of the cross-linked pair were obtained. Glycoprotein-protein interactions involving unique glycoforms on the PNT2 cell surface were identified using the optimized and validated method. We built the GPX network of the PNT2 cell line and further investigated the biological roles of different glycan structures within protein complexes. Furthermore, we were able to build glycoprotein-protein complex models for previously unexplored interactions. The method will advance our future understanding of the roles of glycans in protein complexes on the cell surface.

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