Glycosylphosphatidylinositol ( pronunciation (help·info)) (GPI anchor) is a glycolipid that can be attached to the C-terminus of a protein during posttranslational modification. It is composed of a phosphatidylinositol group linked through a carbohydrate-containing linker (glucosamine and mannose glycosidically bound to the inositol residue) and via an ethanolamine phosphate (EtNP) bridge to the C-terminal amino acid of a mature protein. The two fatty acids within the hydrophobic phosphatidyl-inositol group anchor the protein to the cell membrane.
Glypiated (GPI-linked) proteins contain a signal peptide, thus directing them into the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). The C-terminus is composed of hydrophobic amino acids that stay inserted in the ER membrane. The hydrophobic end is then cleaved off and replaced by the GPI-anchor. As the protein processes through the secretory pathway, it is transferred via vesicles to the Golgi apparatus and finally to the extracellular space where it remains attached to the exterior leaflet of the cell membrane. Since the glypiation is the sole means of attachment of such proteins to the membrane, cleavage of the group by phospholipases will result in controlled release of the protein from the membrane. The latter mechanism is used in vitro; i.e., the membrane proteins released from the membranes in the enzymatic assay are glypiated protein.
Phospholipase C (PLC) is an enzyme that is known to cleave the phospho-glycerol bond found in GPI-anchored proteins. Treatment with PLC will cause release of GPI-linked proteins from the outer cell membrane. The T-cell marker Thy-1 and acetylcholinesterase, as well as both intestinal and placental alkaline phosphatases, are known to be GPI-linked and are released by treatment with PLC. GPI-linked proteins are thought to be preferentially located in lipid rafts, suggesting a high level of organization within plasma membrane microdomains.
GPI-anchor synthesis deficiencies 
Defects in the GPI anchors synthesis occur in the rare diseases paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) and hyperphosphatasia with mental retardation syndrome (HPMR). In PNH a clonal defect in blood stem cells in the gene PIGA, that is required for GPI synthesis, results in faulty GPI linkage of decay-accelerating factor (DAF) and CD59 in red blood cells. Without these proteins linked to the cell surface, the complement system can lyse the cell, and high numbers of RBCs are destroyed, leading to hemoglobinuria.
- Glycosylphosphatidylinositols at the US National Library of Medicine Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)