Background: Mucin type O-glycosylation is one of the most common types of post-translational modifications that impacts stability and biological functions of many mammalian proteins. A large family of UDP-GalNAc polypeptide:N-acetyl-α-galactosaminyltransferases (GalNAc-Ts) catalyzes the first step of mucin type O-glycosylation by transferring GalNAc to serine and/or threonine residues of acceptor polypeptides. Plants do not have the enzyme machinery to perform this process, thus restricting their use as bioreactors for production of recombinant therapeutic proteins.
Results: The present study demonstrates that an isoform of the human GalNAc-Ts family, GalNAc-T2, retains its localization and functionality upon expression in N. benthamiana L. plants. The recombinant enzyme resides in the Golgi as evidenced by the fluorescence distribution pattern of the GalNAc-T2:GFP fusion and alteration of the fluorescence signature upon treatment with Brefeldin A. A GalNAc-T2-specific acceptor peptide, the 113-136 aa fragment of chorionic gonadotropin β-subunit, is glycosylated in vitro by the plant-produced enzyme at the "native" GalNAc attachment sites, Ser-121 and Ser-127. Ectopic expression of GalNAc-T2 is sufficient to "arm" tobacco cells with the ability to perform GalNAc-glycosylation, as evidenced by the attachment of GalNAc to Thr-119 of the endogenous enzyme endochitinase. However, glycosylation of highly expressed recombinant glycoproteins, like magnICON-expressed E. coli enterotoxin B subunit:H. sapiens mucin 1 tandem repeat-derived peptide fusion protein (LTBMUC1), is limited by the low endogenous UDP-GalNAc substrate pool and the insufficient translocation of UDP-GalNAc to the Golgi lumen. Further genetic engineering of the GalNAc-T2 plants by co-expressing Y. enterocolitica UDP-GlcNAc 4-epimerase gene and C. elegans UDP-GlcNAc/UDP-GalNAc transporter gene overcomes these limitations as indicated by the expression of the model LTBMUC1 protein exclusively as a glycoform.
Conclusion: Plant bioreactors can be engineered that are capable of producing Tn antigen-containing recombinant therapeutics.