Tissue-type plasminogen activator (t-PA) is synthesized in mammalian cells as a mixture of two forms that differ in their extent of N-linked glycosylation. We have investigated the mechanism underlying this variation in glycosylation, using a cell-free system that consists of a rabbit reticulocyte lysate optimized for the formation of disulphide bonds and supplemented with dog pancreas microsomal membranes. Molecules of human t-PA synthesized in vitro are enzymically active and responsive to natural activators and inhibitors, and are glycosylated in a pattern identical with that of the protein produced in vivo. This demonstrates that t-PA synthesized in vitro folds into the same conformation as the protein synthesized in vivo. We show that the extent of glycosylation of individual t-PA molecules is dependent on the state of folding of the polypeptide chain, since the probability of addition of an oligosaccharide side chain at Asn-184 is decreased under conditions that promote the formation of enzymically active molecules. This variation in glycosylation is independent of the rate of protein synthesis.
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