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International Journal of Cell Biology
Volume 2015 (2015), Article ID 367579, 15 pages
Review Article

Hyaluronan Synthase: The Mechanism of Initiation at the Reducing End and a Pendulum Model for Polysaccharide Translocation to the Cell Exterior

Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, The Oklahoma Center for Medical Glycobiology, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK 73190, USA

Received 2 October 2014; Accepted 14 January 2015

Academic Editor: Howard Beverley Osborne

Copyright © 2015 Paul H. Weigel. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Hyaluronan (HA) biosynthesis has been studied for over six decades, but our understanding of the biochemical details of how HA synthase (HAS) assembles HA is still incomplete. Class I family members include mammalian and streptococcal HASs, the focus of this review, which add new intracellular sugar-UDPs at the reducing end of growing hyaluronyl-UDP chains. HA-producing cells typically create extracellular HA coats (capsules) and also secrete HA into the surrounding space. Since HAS contains multiple transmembrane domains and is lipid-dependent, we proposed in 1999 that it creates an intraprotein HAS-lipid pore through which a growing HA-UDP chain is translocated continuously across the cell membrane to the exterior. We review here the evidence for a synthase pore-mediated polysaccharide translocation process and describe a possible mechanism (the Pendulum Model) and potential energy sources to drive this ATP-independent process. HA synthases also synthesize chitin oligosaccharides, which are created by cleavage of novel oligo-chitosyl-UDP products. The synthesis of chitin-UDP oligomers by HAS confirms the reducing end mechanism for sugar addition during HA assembly by streptococcal and mammalian Class I enzymes. These new findings indicate the possibility that HA biosynthesis is initiated by the ability of HAS to use chitin-UDP oligomers as self-primers.