Macromolecular transport across the nuclear envelope depends on facilitated diffusion through nuclear pore complexes (NPCs). The interior of NPCs contains a permeability barrier made of phenylalanine-glycine (FG) repeat domains that selectively facilitates the permeation of cargoes bound to nuclear transport receptors (NTRs). FG-repeat domains in NPCs are a major site of O-linked N-acetylglucosamine (O-GlcNAc) modification, but the functional role of this modification in nucleocytoplasmic transport is unclear. We developed high-throughput assays based on optogenetic probes to quantify the kinetics of nuclear import and export in living human cells. We found that increasing O-GlcNAc modification of the NPC accelerated NTR-facilitated transport of proteins in both directions, and decreasing modification slowed transport. Superresolution imaging revealed strong enrichment of O-GlcNAc at the FG-repeat barrier. O-GlcNAc modification also accelerated passive permeation of a small, inert protein through NPCs. We conclude that O-GlcNAc modification accelerates nucleocytoplasmic transport by enhancing the nonspecific permeability of the FG-repeat barrier, perhaps by steric inhibition of interactions between FG repeats.

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