Mammalian brains contain relatively high amounts of common and uncommon sialylated N-glycan structures. Sialic acid linkages were identified for voltage-gated potassium channels, Kv3.1, 3.3, 3.4, 1.1, 1.2 and 1.4, by evaluating their electrophoretic migration patterns in adult rat brain membranes digested with various glycosidases. Additionally, their electrophoretic migration patterns were compared with those of NCAM (neural cell adhesion molecule), transferrin and the Kv3.1 protein heterologously expressed in B35 neuroblastoma cells. Metabolic labelling of the carbohydrates combined with glycosidase digestion reactions were utilized to show that the N-glycan of recombinant Kv3.1 protein was capped with an oligo/poly-sialyl unit. All three brain Kv3 glycoproteins, like NCAM, were terminated with α2,3-linked sialyl residues, as well as atypical α2,8-linked sialyl residues. Additionally, at least one of their antennae was terminated with an oligo/poly-sialyl unit, similar to recombinant Kv3.1 and NCAM. In contrast, brain Kv1 glycoproteins consisted of sialyl residues with α2,8-linkage, as well as sialyl residues linked to internal carbohydrate residues of the carbohydrate chains of the N-glycans. This type of linkage was also supported for Kv3 glycoproteins. To date, such a sialyl linkage has only been identified in gangliosides, not N-linked glycoproteins. We conclude that all six Kv channels (voltage-gated K+ channels) contribute to the α2,8-linked sialylated N-glycan pool in mammalian brain and furthermore that their N-glycan structures contain branched sialyl residues. Identification of these novel and unique sialylated N-glycan structures implicate a connection between potassium channel activity and atypical sialylated N-glycans in modulating and fine-tuning the excitable properties of neurons in the nervous system.

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