The major histocompatibility class I antigens, expressed in most somatic cells, have carbohydrate moieties. We constructed mutant mouse MHC class I genes in which codons for the N-linked glycosylation sites were replaced by those of other amino acids. L cell transformants expressing the nonglycosylated class I antigens allowed us to investigate biological roles of carbohydrates with the highest specificity possible. The nonglycosylated antigen was unchanged in its overall serological specificities, and was recognized by alloreactive cytotoxic T cells. Further, the antigen was capable of mediating cytotoxic activity of vesicular stomatitis virus-specific T cells. These studies indicate that carbohydrates are not essential for immunological function of the MHC class I antigens. Cell surface expression of the nonglycosylated antigen was markedly reduced as compared with the native antigen, which was not attributable to accelerated degradation or rapid shedding. We conclude that the primary role of carbohydrates of the class I antigens is to facilitate the intracellular transport of the nascent proteins to the plasma membrane. The possible involvement of carbohydrate-receptor interactions in this process is discussed.

This content is only available as a PDF.