Calnexin acts to retain unfolded or unassembled N-linked glycoproteins in the ER.
Calnexin binds only those N-glycoproteins that have GlcNAc2Man9Glc1 oligosaccharides. These monoglucosylated oligosaccharides result from the trimming of two glucose residues by the sequential action of two glucosidases, I and II. Glucosidase II can also remove the third and last glucose residue.
If the glycoprotein is not properly folded, an enzyme called UGGT (for UDP-glucose:glycoprotein glucosyltransferase) will add the glucose residue back onto the oligosaccharide thus regenerating the glycoprotein's ability to bind to calnexin.
The improperly-folded glycoprotein chain thus loiters in the ER, risking the encounter with MNS1 (alpha-mannosidase), which eventually sentences the underperforming glycoprotein to degradation by removing its mannose residue.
If the protein is correctly translated, the chance of it being correctly folded before it encounters MNS1 is high.
Calnexin also functions as a chaperone for the folding of MHC class I alpha chain in the membrane of the ER. After folding is completed Calnexin is replaced by Calreticulin, which assists in further assembly of MHC class I.
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