CD44-mediated cell adhesion to hyaluronate is controlled by mechanisms which are poorly understood. In the present work we examine the role of N-linked glycosylation and Ser-Gly motifs in regulating CD44-hyaluronate interaction. Our results show that treatment of a panel of human cell lines which constitutively express CD44 with the inhibitor of N-linked glycosylation tunicamycin results in the loss of attachment of these cells to hyaluronate-coated substrate. In contrast, treatment of the same cells with deoxymannojirimycin, which inhibits the conversion of high mannose oligosaccharides to complex N-linked carbohydrates, results in either no change or an increase in CD44-mediated adhesion to hyaluronate, suggesting that complex N-linked oligosaccharides may not be required for and may even inhibit CD44-HA interaction. Using human melanoma cells stably transfected with CD44 N-linked glycosylation site-specific mutants, we show that integrity of five potential N-linked glycosylation sites within the hyaluronate recognition domain of CD44 is critical for hyaluronate binding. Mutation of any one of these potential N-linked glycosylation sites abrogates CD44-mediated melanoma cell attachment to hyaluronate-coated surfaces, suggesting that all five sites are necessary to maintain the HA-recognition domain in the appropriate conformation. We also demonstrate that mutation of serine residues which constitute the four Ser-Gly motifs in the membrane proximal domain, and provide potential sites for glycosaminoglycan side chain attachment, impairs hyaluronate binding. Taken together, these observations indicate that changes in glycosylation of CD44 can have profound effects on its interaction with hyaluronic acid and suggest that glycosylation may provide an important regulatory mechanism of CD44 function.

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