O-GlcNAc protein modification in plants: Evolution and function

Neil E. Olszewski, Christopher M. West, Slim O. Sassi, Lynn M. Hartweck

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

115 Scopus citations


The role in plants of posttranslational modification of proteins with O-linked N-acetylglucosamine and the evolution and function of O-GlcNAc transferases responsible for this modification are reviewed. Phylogenetic analysis of eukaryotic O-GlcNAc transferases (OGTs) leads us to propose that plants have two distinct OGTs, SEC- and SPY-like, that originated in prokaryotes. Animals and some fungi have a SEC-like enzyme while plants have both. Green algae and some members of the Apicomplexa and amoebozoa have the SPY-like enzyme. Interestingly the progenitor of the Apicomplexa lineage likely had a photosynthetic plastid that persists in a degenerated form in some species, raising the possibility that plant SPY-like OGTs are derived from a photosynthetic endosymbiont. OGTs have multiple tetratricopeptide repeats (TPRs) that within the SEC- and SPY-like classes exhibit evidence of strong selective pressure on specific repeats, suggesting that the function of these repeats is conserved. SPY-like and SEC-like OGTs have both unique and overlapping roles in the plant. The phenotypes of sec and spy single and double mutants indicate that O-GlcNAc modification is essential and that it affects diverse plant processes including response to hormones and environmental signals, circadian rhythms, development, intercellular transport and virus infection. The mechanistic details of how O-GlcNAc modification affects these processes are largely unknown. A major impediment to understanding this is the lack of knowledge of the identities of the modified proteins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-56
Number of pages8
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - General Subjects
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Edward Braun (University of Florida) for his advice on the phylogenetic analyses. Supported by BARD US-3896-06 and NSF MCB-0820666 to NEO, DOE DE-FG01-04ER04 to NEO and LMH, and Oklahoma Center for Advancement of Science and Technology HR04-141 (20041406) and NIH R01 GM37539 to CMW.


  • Arabidopsis
  • Evolution
  • O-GlcNAc modification
  • O-GlcNAc transferase
  • Plants
  • Posttranslational regulation


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