Polysialylation controls dendritic cell trafficking by regulating chemokine recognition

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Science  08 Jan 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6269, pp. 186-190
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad0512

A chemokine's sugary release

As immune cells survey the body for pathogens, they circulate through the blood and migrate through the lymphatic system. The latter route allows for tissues and lymph nodes—the central hubs of the immune system—to communicate. Kiermaier et al. reveal the importance of the monosaccharide sialic acid in keeping immune cells in motion. Multiple sialic acids decorate the surface CCR7 on immune cells. CCR7 recognizes proteins called chemokines, which direct where cells move in the body. Sialic acids on CCR7 release one such chemokine present on lymph node endothelial cells from an inhibited state, allowing immune cells to enter lymph nodes.

Science, this issue p. 186


The addition of polysialic acid to N- and/or O-linked glycans, referred to as polysialylation, is a rare posttranslational modification that is mainly known to control the developmental plasticity of the nervous system. Here we show that CCR7, the central chemokine receptor controlling immune cell trafficking to secondary lymphatic organs, carries polysialic acid. This modification is essential for the recognition of the CCR7 ligand CCL21. As a consequence, dendritic cell trafficking is abrogated in polysialyltransferase-deficient mice, manifesting as disturbed lymph node homeostasis and unresponsiveness to inflammatory stimuli. Structure-function analysis of chemokine-receptor interactions reveals that CCL21 adopts an autoinhibited conformation, which is released upon interaction with polysialic acid. Thus, we describe a glycosylation-mediated immune cell trafficking disorder and its mechanistic basis.

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