Online Inquiry

N-Linked Glycosylation Process

N-linked glycosylation is a vital process that occurs in all eukaryotic cells. It refers to the attachment of complex sugar molecules, or glycans, to specific asparagine residues within a protein molecule. This post-translational modification plays a crucial role in protein folding, stability, trafficking, and recognition by other molecules. Understanding the N-linked glycosylation process is important for researchers and industries, such as pharmaceutical and biotechnology, as it can affect protein function and therapeutic efficacy.

Structure of N-linked glycans

N-linked glycans, intricate branched structures composed of a variety of monosaccharides, namely glucose, mannose, galactose, N-acetylglucosamine and sialic acid, exhibit a notable variability in length and branching patterns across diverse cell types, tissues and species. These glycans are classified based on their core structure, including high-mannose, mixed and complex types.

The high-mannose glycans, commonly present in the early stages of N-linked glycosylation, comprise a straightforward structure comprising N-acetylglucosamine and mannose residues that form a core, with additional mannose residues branched off from the core. They can undergo further modifications and be transformed into more complex structures.

In contrast, hybrid glycans exhibit both high-mannose and complex-type structures. Similar to high-mannose glycans, the core structure of hybrid glycans also comprises N-acetylglucosamine and mannose residues. However, they exhibit additional branches of N-acetylglucosamine, galactose, and sialic acid, thereby augmenting their complexity.

The most multifarious and intricate structures among N-linked glycans are the complex-type glycans. The core structure of these glycans comprises N-acetylglucosamine and mannose residues, and they contain various branches of galactose, N-acetylglucosamine, and sialic acid. The diversity in their branching patterns can modulate their biological functions such as protein stability, solubility, and recognition by other molecules.

N-linked glycosylation

Biosynthesis of N-linked glycans

The intricate process of N-linked glycan biosynthesis is a fascinating and multifaceted phenomenon that involves a series of highly specific enzymatic reactions occurring in both the eukaryotic endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and Golgi apparatus. At its inception, a pre-assembled oligosaccharide composed of 14 sugar residues is transferred from a lipid carrier to a specific asparagine residue located within the nascent protein chain. This process is catalyzed by a highly specialized and intricate oligosaccharide transferase (OST) complex that has the remarkable ability to recognize the consensus sequence Asn-X-Ser/Thr (where X can be any amino acid other than proline).

The subsequent steps in glycan biosynthesis are no less complex and involve a myriad of modifications, including trimming, extension, and branching. Sugar trimming, which transpires within the confines of the ER, involves the selective removal of specific sugar residues through the action of glycosidases such as alpha-mannosidase and glucosidase. The extent of pruning can result in the formation of various high-mannose glycans that possess distinct physicochemical properties.

Glycan extension and branching, on the other hand, take place within the Golgi apparatus and necessitate the addition of specific sugar residues through the agency of glycosyltransferases. These enzymes possess the uncanny ability to transfer an array of sugar residues, such as N-acetylglucosamine, galactose and sialic acid, to glycans in order to engender complex and hybrid glycans. Sugar branching can also be regulated by specific enzymes, such as α1,6-fucosyltransferase and β1,4-galactosyltransferase. These modifications can exert a profound effect on the physicochemical properties of proteins, modulating their solubility, stability, and recognition by other molecules, thereby influencing various biological processes.

N-linked Glycosylation Process

The N-linked glycosylation process occurs in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and the Golgi apparatus of eukaryotic cells. The process involves a series of enzymatic reactions that transfer glycans from a lipid-linked oligosaccharide precursor (LLO) to the protein's asparagine residue. The process can be divided into three stages: synthesis of the LLO precursor, assembly of the glycan chain, and transfer of the glycan to the protein.

Stage 1: Synthesis of the LLO precursor

The synthesis of the LLO precursor, takes place on the cytoplasmic side of the ER membrane, where a series of enzymatic reactions adds individual sugar residues to a lipid carrier. Following this, the precursor is flipped to the luminal side of the ER membrane, where additional sugar residues are added to create a final LLO precursor consisting of a core structure of two N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc) and three mannose (Man) residues, along with a variable number of additional sugar residues based on the specific protein and cell type.

Stage 2: Assembly of the glycan chain

This step occurs on the luminal side of the ER membrane. The glycan chain is synthesized by a series of glycosyltransferases, which add sugar residues to the LLO precursor. The glycan chain typically contains a core structure of two GlcNAc and three Man residues, followed by three glucose (Glc) residues, along with several additional sugar residues such as galactose (Gal), sialic acid (Sia), and fucose (Fuc). This stage is known for its complexity, with the specific composition of the glycan chain varying widely based on the specific protein and cell type.

Stage 3: Transfer of the glycan to the protein

The third and final stage of N-linked glycosylation is the transfer of the glycan to the protein. This step occurs in the ER lumen, where an enzyme called oligosaccharyltransferase (OST) transfers the glycan from the LLO precursor to the protein's asparagine residue. The transfer is highly specific, with the glycan only attaching to asparagine residues in the sequence Asn-X-Ser/Thr, where X can be any amino acid except proline. The glycan is attached to the asparagine residue via a covalent linkage between the terminal glucose residue of the glycan and the protein's asparagine residue.

ER localized LLO biosynthesis and CDG defects (Kamerling et al., 2007)

Regulation of N-linked glycans

The tightly controlled N-linked glycosylation process is influenced by a myriad of factors that come into play, including the availability of sugar donors, the activity of enzymes and chaperones, and the cellular environment. The regulation of N-linked glycosylation, in turn, has far-reaching effects on protein quality control, trafficking, and function, as well as on cellular processes that range from development to immune response and disease.

Of the various factors that regulate N-linked glycosylation, one of the key ones is the availability of nucleotide sugar donors, such as UDP-GlcNAc, UDP-Gal, and CMP-Neu5Ac, that are required for glycans' biosynthesis. These donors' availability is subject to influence by various metabolic pathways, such as the hexosamine biosynthetic pathway, the galactose salvage pathway, and the sialic acid biosynthetic pathway, which can significantly affect the amount and structure of N-linked glycans.

In addition to this, another crucial regulator of N-linked glycosylation is the activity of specific enzymes and chaperones, which can exert control over the trimming, extension, and branching of glycans. The activity of α-mannosidases and glucosidases can significantly influence the production of high-mannose glycans, while the activity of glycosyltransferases can regulate the generation of complex-type and hybrid-type glycans. The activity of chaperones, such as calnexin and calreticulin, also plays an integral role in protein folding and quality control during N-linked glycosylation.

Moreover, the cellular environment itself has an impact on N-linked glycosylation, as it influences the localization and activity of glycosylation enzymes and chaperones. For instance, the ER stress response, induced by a host of stimuli such as glucose deprivation and protein misfolding, can substantially affect the expression and activity of glycosylation enzymes and chaperones, leading to significant changes in the glycan structure and protein quality control.

Protein N-Glycosylation Analysis Strategy and Procedures

Protein N-glycosylation analysis involves a series of procedures. First, proteins are extracted from the sample and digested into peptides. Glycopeptides, containing glycan structures, are then selectively enriched. The glycans are released from the peptides and purified. Optionally, the purified glycans can be labeled for detection. Glycan analysis is performed using techniques like liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to determine their composition and structure. Data analysis and interpretation help understand the biological implications of the glycan structures.

Interested in learning more? Here's an article we think you'll like: Protein N-Glycosylation Analysis Strategy and Procedures


  1. Kamerling, Johannis P., and Geert-Jan Boons, eds. Cell Glycobiology and Development: Health and Disease in Glycomedicine. Elsevier, 2007.
* For Research Use Only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures.
Our customer service representatives are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Inquiry

Online Inquiry

Please submit a detailed description of your project. We will provide you with a customized project plan to meet your research requests. You can also send emails directly to for inquiries.

* Email
* Service & Products of Interest
Services Required and Project Description
* Verification Code
Verification Code