The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is the subcellular site where proteins following the secretory pathway acquire their proper tertiary and, in certain cases, quaternary structures. Species that are not yet properly folded are prevented from exit to the Golgi apparatus and, if permanently misfolded, are transported to the cytosol, where they are degraded in the proteasomes. This review deals with a mechanism, applicable to proteins that are N-glycosylated in the ER, by which the quality control of folding is performed. Protein-linked monoglucosylated glycans, formed by glucosidase I- and glucosidase II-dependent partial deglucosylation of the oligosaccharides transferred from dolichol diphosphate derivatives in N-glycosylation (Glc3Man9GlcNAc2), mediate glycoprotein recognition by two ER-resident lectins, membrane-bound calnexin (CNX) and its soluble homologue, calreticulin (CRT). A still not yet fully confirmed interaction between the lectins and the protein moieties of folding glycoproteins may occur after lectin recognition of monoglucosylated structures. Further deglucosylation of glycans by glucosidase II, and perhaps also by a change in CNX/CRT and/or in the substrate glycoprotein conformation, liberates the glycoproteins from their CNX/CRT anchors. Glycans may be then reglucosylated by the UDP-Glc:glycoprotein glucosyltransferase (GT), and thus be recognized again by CNX/CRT, but only when linked to not yet properly folded protein moieties, as this enzyme behaves as a sensor of glycoprotein conformation. Deglucosylation/reglucosylation cycles catalysed by the opposing activities of glucosidase II and GT only stop when proper folding is achieved. The interaction between CNX/CRT and a monoglucosylated glycan is one of the alternative mechanisms by which cells retain not yet properly folded glycoproteins in the ER; in addition, it enhances folding efficiency by preventing protein aggregation and thus allowing intervention of classical chaperones and other folding-assisting proteins. There is evidence suggesting that both glycoprotein glucosylation and mannose removal, respectively mediated by GT and ER mannosidase I, might be involved in cell recognition of permanently misfolded glycoproteins bound for proteasome degradation.

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