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Protein O-GlcNAcylation is an essential post-translational modification on hundreds of intracellular proteins in metazoa, catalyzed by O-linked β-N-acetylglucosamine (O-GlcNAc) transferase (OGT) using unknown mechanisms of transfer and substrate recognition. Through crystallographic snapshots and mechanism-inspired chemical probes, we define how human OGT recognizes the sugar donor and acceptor peptide and uses a new catalytic mechanism of glycosyl transfer, involving the sugar donor α-phosphate as the catalytic base as well as an essential lysine. This mechanism seems to be a unique evolutionary solution to the spatial constraints imposed by a bulky protein acceptor substrate and explains the unexpected specificity of a recently reported metabolic OGT inhibitor. © 2012 Nature America, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Nature Chemical Biology

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