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Metabolic Labeling of Caenorhabditis elegans Primary Embryonic Cells with Azido-Sugars as a Tool for Glycoprotein Discovery
Published: Monday, November 12, 2012
Author: Amanda R. Burnham-Marusich et al.

by Amanda R. Burnham-Marusich, Casey J. Snodgrass, Anna M. Johnson, Conrad M. Kiyoshi, Sarah E. Buzby, Matt R. Gruner, Patricia M. Berninsone

Glycobiology research with Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) has benefitted from the numerous genetic and cell biology tools available in this system. However, the lack of a cell line and the relative inaccessibility of C. elegans somatic cells in vivo have limited the biochemical approaches available in this model. Here we report that C. elegans primary embryonic cells in culture incorporate azido-sugar analogs of N-acetylgalactosamine (GalNAc) and N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc), and that the labeled glycoproteins can be analyzed by mass spectrometry. By using this metabolic labeling approach, we have identified a set of novel C. elegans glycoprotein candidates, which include several mitochondrially-annotated proteins. This observation was unexpected given that mitochondrial glycoproteins have only rarely been reported, and it suggests that glycosylation of mitochondrially-annotated proteins might occur more frequently than previously thought. Using independent experimental strategies, we validated a subset of our glycoprotein candidates. These include a mitochondrial, atypical glycoprotein (ATP synthase a-subunit), a predicted glycoprotein (aspartyl protease, ASP-4), and a protein family with established glycosylation in other species (actin). Additionally, we observed a glycosylated isoform of ATP synthase a-subunit in bovine heart tissue and a primate cell line (COS-7). Overall, our finding that C. elegans primary embryonic cells are amenable to metabolic labeling demonstrates that biochemical studies in C. elegans are feasible, which opens the door to labeling C. elegans cells with other radioactive or azido-substrates and should enable the identification of additional post-translationally modified targets and analysis of the genes required for their modification using C. elegans mutant libraries.