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Realizing the promise of glycobiology

Intro to Glycans

Glycans are carbohydrate chains covalently bound to protein or lipid backbones. Owing to their ubiquitous presence at the cell-extracellular interface, glycans are located in an environment where growth factors, cytokines, immune receptors, enzymes, and others interact with cell surface receptors. Cells also deposit glycans in extracellular matrices where they provide support and organization to tissues and create barriers for regulating diffusion.

For many years, glycans were thought to play merely structural roles, but we now know that they play active roles in fundamental properties of cells, including protein quality control, cell adhesion and motility, endocytosis, and signal transduction. Recent research including functional genetic studies has uncovered the relationship between glycan structure and phenotype, resulting in the identification of a variety of novel targets for human diseases including cancer, inflammation, lysosomal storage diseases, and others.


Brown JR, et al. Glycan antagonists and inhibitors: a fount for drug discovery. Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol. 42: 481-515 (2007).

Fuster MM et al. The sweet and sour of cancer: glycans as novel therapeutic targets. Nature Reviews in Cancer. 5: 526-542 (2005).

Raman R. et al. Glycomics: an integrated systems approach to structure-function relationships of glycans. Nature Methods. 2: 817-824 (2005).