Human lactoferrin (hLF) is a glycoprotein involved in the host defence against infection and excessive inflammation. Our objective was to determine to what extent each of the three sequons for N-linked glycosylation in hLF is actually used. Human kidney-derived 293(S) cell lines expressing recombinant hLF (rhLF) or glycosylation-site mutants were produced. The mutations involved replacement of asparagine residues with glutamine at one or more sequons for N-glycosylation (Asn138, Asn479 and Asn624). Comparative SDS/PAGE analyses of rhLF, mutated rhLF and human-milk-derived (natural) hLF led us to propose that glycosylation of hLF occurs at two sites (at Asn138 and Asn479) in approx. 85% of all hLF molecules. Glycosylation at a single site (Asn479) or at all three sites occurs in approx. 5% and 9% of hLF respectively. The extent of glycosylation at Asn624 was increased to approx. 29% and 40% of Asn479 and Asn138/479 mutant molecules respectively, which indicates that glycosylation at Asn624 in natural hLF might be limited by glycosylation at Asn479. The presence in supernatant of unglycosylated hLF (approx. 60% of the total) after mutations of Asn138 and Asn479 suggests that glycosylation of hLF is not an absolute requirement for its secretion. The pronounced degradation of unglycosylated hLF in supernatant after mutation at all three glycosylation sites (Asn138/479/624 mutant) but not after mutation at both Asn138 and Asn479 suggests that an altered conformation rather than the lack of glycosylation has rendered the Asn138/479/624 mutant susceptible to intra- and/or extra-cellular degradation.

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