DOI: 10.1096/fba.2023-00066 ISSN: 2573-9832

Altered microheterogeneity at several N‐glycosylation sites in OPSCC in constant protein expression conditions

Amy Dickinson, Sakari Joenväärä, Tiialotta Tohmola, Jutta Renkonen, Petri Mattila, Timo Carpén, Antti Mäkitie, Suvi Silén
  • Cancer Research
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Physiology


Protein glycosylation responds sensitively to disease states. It is implicated in every hallmark of cancer and has recently started to be considered as a hallmark itself. Changes in N‐glycosylation microheterogeneity are more dramatic than those of protein expression due to the non‐template nature of protein glycosylation. This enables their potential use in serum‐based diagnostics. Here, we perform glycopeptidomics on serum from patients with oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC), compared to controls and comparing between cancers based on etiology (human papilloma virus‐ positive or negative). Using MS2, we then targeted glycoforms, significantly different between the groups, to identify their glycopeptide compositions. Simultaneously we investigate the same serum proteins, comparing whether N‐glycosylation changes reflect protein‐level changes. Significant glycoforms were identified from proteins such as alpha‐1‐antitrypsin (SERPINA1), haptoglobin, and different immunoglobulins. SERPINA1 had glycovariance at 2 N‐glycosylation sites, that were up to 35 times more abundant in even early‐stage OPSCCs, despite minimal differences between SERPINA1 protein levels between groups. Some identified glycoforms' fold changes (FCs) were in line with serum protein level FCs, others were less abundant in early‐stage cancers but with great variance in higher‐stage cancers, such as on immunoglobulin heavy constant gamma 2, despite no change in protein levels. Such findings indicate that glycovariant analysis might be more beneficial than proteomic analysis, which is yet to be fruitful in the search for biomarkers. Highly sensitive glycopeptide changes could potentially be used in the future for cancer screening. Additionally, characterizing the glycopeptide changes in OPSCC is valuable in the search for potential therapeutic targets.

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