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Increasing cell permeability of N-acetylglucosamine via 6-acetylation enhances capacity to suppress T-helper 1 (TH1)/TH17 responses and autoimmunity

Lee, SU;Li, CF;Mortales, CL;Pawling, J;Dennis, JW;Grigorian, A;Demetriou, M;

N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc) branching of Asn (N)-linked glycans inhibits pro-inflammatory T cell responses and models of autoimmune diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Metabolism controls N-glycan branching in T cells by regulating de novo hexosamine pathway biosynthesis of UDP-GlcNAc, the donor substrate for the Golgi branching enzymes. Activated T cells switch metabolism from oxidative phosphorylation to aerobic glycolysis and glutaminolysis. This reduces flux of glucose and glutamine into the hexosamine pathway, thereby inhibiting de novo UDP-GlcNAc synthesis and N-glycan branching. Salvage of GlcNAc into the hexosamine pathway overcomes this metabolic suppression to restore UDP-GlcNAc synthesis and N-glycan branching, thereby promoting anti-inflammatory T regulatory (Treg) over pro-inflammatory T helper (TH) 17 and TH1 differentiation to suppress autoimmunity. However, GlcNAc activity is limited by the lack of a cell surface transporter and requires high doses to enter cells via macropinocytosis. Here we report that GlcNAc-6-acetate is a superior pro-drug form of GlcNAc. Acetylation of amino-sugars improves cell membrane permeability, with subsequent de-acetylation by cytoplasmic esterases allowing salvage into the hexosamine pathway. Per- and bi-acetylation of GlcNAc led to toxicity in T cells, whereas mono-acetylation at only the 6 > 3 position raised N-glycan branching greater than GlcNAc without inducing significant toxicity. GlcNAc-6-acetate inhibited T cell activation/proliferation, TH1/TH17 responses and disease progression in Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis (EAE), a mouse model of MS. Thus, GlcNAc-6-Acetate may provide an improved therapeutic approach to raise N-glycan branching, inhibit pro-inflammatory T cell responses and treat autoimmune diseases such as MS.