Steric pressure between glycosylated transmembrane proteins inhibits internalization by endocytosis

Sadhana Gollapudi, Sabah Jamal, Advika Kamatar, Feng Yuan, Liping Wang, Eileen M. Lafer, Brian Belardi, Jeanne C. Stachowiak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Clathrin-mediated endocytosis is essential for the removal of transmembrane proteins from the plasma membrane in all eukaryotic cells. Many transmembrane proteins are glycosylated. These proteins collectively comprise the glycocalyx, a sugar-rich layer at the cell surface, which is responsible for intercellular adhesion and recognition. Previous work has suggested that glycosylation of transmembrane proteins reduces their removal from the plasma membrane by endocytosis. However, the mechanism responsible for this effect remains unknown. To study the impact of glycosylation on endocytosis, we replaced the ectodomain of the transferrin receptor, a well-studied transmembrane protein that undergoes clathrin-mediated endocytosis, with the ectodomain of MUC1, which is highly glycosylated. When we expressed this transmembrane fusion protein in mammalian epithelial cells, we found that its recruitment to endocytic structures was substantially reduced in comparison to a version of the protein that lacked the MUC1 ectodomain. This reduction could not be explained by a loss of mobility on the cell surface or changes in endocytic dynamics. Instead, we found that the bulky MUC1 ectodomain presented a steric barrier to endocytosis. Specifically, the peptide backbone of the ectodomain and its glycosylation each made steric contributions, which drove comparable reductions in endocytosis. These results suggest that glycosylation constitutes a biophysical signal for retention of transmembrane proteins at the plasma membrane. This mechanism could be modulated in multiple disease states that exploit the glycocalyx, from cancer to atherosclerosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2215815120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number15
StatePublished - Apr 11 2023


  • endocytosis
  • glycocalyx
  • glycosylation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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