Giant virus Megavirus chilensis encodes the biosynthetic pathway for uncommon acetamido sugars.

Research paper by Francesco F Piacente, Cristina C De Castro, Sandra S Jeudy, Antonio A Molinaro, Annalisa A Salis, Gianluca G Damonte, Cinzia C Bernardi, Chantal C Abergel, Michela G MG Tonetti

Indexed on: 19 Jul '14Published on: 19 Jul '14Published in: Journal of Biological Chemistry


Giant viruses mimicking microbes, by the sizes of their particles and the heavily glycosylated fibrils surrounding their capsids, infect Acanthamoeba sp., which are ubiquitous unicellular eukaryotes. The glycans on fibrils are produced by virally encoded enzymes, organized in gene clusters. Like Mimivirus, Megavirus glycans are mainly composed of virally synthesized N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc). They also contain N-acetylrhamnosamine (RhaNAc), a rare sugar; the enzymes involved in its synthesis are encoded by a gene cluster specific to Megavirus close relatives. We combined activity assays on two enzymes of the pathway with mass spectrometry and NMR studies to characterize their specificities. Mg534 is a 4,6-dehydratase 5-epimerase; its three-dimensional structure suggests that it belongs to a third subfamily of inverting dehydratases. Mg535, next in the pathway, is a bifunctional 3-epimerase 4-reductase. The sequential activity of the two enzymes leads to the formation of UDP-l-RhaNAc. This study is another example of giant viruses performing their glycan synthesis using enzymes different from their cellular counterparts, raising again the question of the origin of these pathways.