CD8+ T-cell apoptosis is essential for the contraction phase of the immune response, yet the initiating signals and precise pathways involved are unresolved. The ST3Gal-I sialyltransferase is a candidate mechanistic component and catalyzes sialic acid addition to core 1 O-glycans during protein O glycosylation. ST3Gal-I inactivation or enzymatic removal of its product renders CD8+ T cells, but not CD4+ T cells, susceptible to apoptosis by differential cross-linking of O-glycoproteins in the absence of interleukin-2 and T-cell receptor (TCR) signaling. This results in caspase activation, DNA fragmentation, and phosphatidylserine externalization prior to cell death. We further show that ST3Gal-I function is regulated by a posttranscriptional mechanism operating distal to Golgi core 2 O glycosylation and is invariably linked to CD8+ T-cell contraction following viral (lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus) infection and bacterial (staphylococcal enterotoxin B) antigen immunization. The mechanism does not involve the ST3Gal-I substrate CD43 or core 2 O-glycan induction and overcomes the ability of Bcl-2 to inhibit the contraction phase in vivo. Loss of ST3Gal-I function further reduces Bim-deficient CD8+ T-cell accumulation without diminishing apoptotic sensitivity. We propose that an endogenous lectin activates an apoptotic pathway constructed in CD8+ T cells following TCR stimulation and enables contraction upon attenuation of immune signaling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1096-1111
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular and cellular biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2007


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