Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is a member of a family of heterodimeric glycoprotein hormones that have a common alpha subunit but differ in their hormone-specific beta subunit. Site-directed mutagenesis of the two asparagine-linked glycosylation sites of hCG alpha was used to study the function of the individual oligosaccharide chains in secretion and subunit assembly. Expression vectors for the alpha genes (wild-type and mutant) and the hCG beta gene were constructed and transfected into Chinese hamster ovary cells. Loss of the oligosaccharide at position 78 causes the mutant subunit to be degraded quickly and less than 20% is secreted. However, the presence of hCG beta stabilizes this mutant and allows approximately 45% of the subunit in the form of a dimer to exit the cell. Absence of carbohydrate at asparagine 52 does not perturb the stability or transport of the alpha subunit but does affect dimer secretion; under conditions where this mutant or hCG beta was in excess, less than 30% is secreted in the form of a dimer. Mutagenesis of both glycosylation sites affects monomer and dimer secretion but at levels intermediate between the single-site mutants. We conclude that there are site-specific functions of the hCG alpha asparagine-linked oligosaccharides with respect to the stability and assembly of hCG.

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