The Hexosamine Signaling Pathway: Deciphering the "O-GlcNAc Code"

Science's STKE  29 Nov 2005:
Vol. 2005, Issue 312, pp. re13
DOI: 10.1126/stke.3122005re13

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A dynamic cycle of addition and removal of O-linked N-acetylglucosamine (O-GlcNAc) at serine and threonine residues is emerging as a key regulator of nuclear and cytoplasmic protein activity. Like phosphorylation, protein O-GlcNAcylation dramatically alters the posttranslational fate and function of target proteins. Indeed, O-GlcNAcylation may compete with phosphorylation for certain Ser/Thr target sites. Like kinases and phosphatases, the enzymes of O-GlcNAc metabolism are highly compartmentalized and regulated. Yet, O-GlcNAc addition is subject to an additional and unique level of metabolic control. O-GlcNAc transfer is the terminal step in a "hexosamine signaling pathway" (HSP). In the HSP, levels of uridine 5′-diphosphate (UDP)-GlcNAc respond to nutrient excess to activate O-GlcNAcylation. Removal of O-GlcNAc may also be under similar metabolic regulation. Differentially targeted isoforms of the enzymes of O-GlcNAc metabolism allow the participation of O-GlcNAc in diverse intracellular functions. O-GlcNAc addition and removal are key to histone remodeling, transcription, proliferation, apoptosis, and proteasomal degradation. This nutrient-responsive signaling pathway also modulates important cellular pathways, including the insulin signaling cascade in animals and the gibberellin signaling pathway in plants. Alterations in O-GlcNAc metabolism are associated with various human diseases including diabetes mellitus and neurodegeneration. This review will focus on current approaches to deciphering the "O-GlcNAc code" in order to elucidate how O-GlcNAc participates in its diverse functions. This ongoing effort requires analysis of the enzymes of O-GlcNAc metabolism, their many targets, and how the O-GlcNAc modification may be regulated.

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