CRISPR-screen identifies ZIP9 and dysregulated Zn2+ homeostasis as a cause of cancer-associated changes in glycosylation

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In epithelial cancers, truncated O-glycans, such as the Thomson-nouveau antigen (Tn) and its sialylated form (STn), are up-regulated on the cell surface and associated with poor prognosis and immunological escape. Recent studies have shown that these carbohydrate epitopes facilitate cancer development and can be targeted therapeutically; however, the mechanism underpinning their expression remains unclear. To identify genes directly influencing the expression of cancer-associated O-glycans, we conducted an unbiased, positive-selection, whole genome CRISPR knockout-screen using monoclonal antibodies against Tn and STn. We show that knockout of the Zn2+-transporter SLC39A9 (ZIP9), alongside the well-described targets C1GALT1 (C1GalT1) and its molecular chaperone, C1GALT1C1 (COSMC), results in surface-expression of cancer-associated O-glycans. No other gene perturbations were found to reliably induce O-glycan truncation. We furthermore show that ZIP9 knockout affects N-linked glycosylation, resulting in up-regulation of oligo-mannose, hybrid-type, and α2,6-sialylated structures as well as down-regulation of tri- and tetra-antennary structures. Finally, we demonstrate that accumulation of Zn2+ in the secretory pathway coincides with cell-surface presentation of truncated O-glycans in cancer tissue, and that over-expression of COSMC mitigates such changes. Collectively, the findings show that dysregulation of ZIP9 and Zn2+ induces cancer-like glycosylation on the cell surface by affecting the glycosylation machinery.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Jan 2023

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