Artist’s rendering of asymmetrically-branched carbohydrates on cell surface proteins.
Glycobiology is the study of glycans, the carbohydrate molecules that cover the surface of most human cells. Glycans attach to cell surface proteins and lipids, in a process called glycosylation. These cell surface structures are responsible for processes as varied at protein folding, cell signaling and cell-cell recognition, including sperm-egg recognition and immune cell interactions. Glycans play important roles in the red blood cell antigens that distinguish blood types O, A and B.
Opportunities in Glycomics Research
As more is learned about the role of glycans in cell communication, they are becoming important disease research targets, particularly the role of glycans in cancer and inflammatory diseases (2).
Some of the open questions surrounding glycans and glycosylation include glycan structural diversity. While some carbohydrates exist as straight or symmetrically branched chains, those populating the human glycome are asymmetrically branched, making them difficult to create and study in the laboratory (3). Continue reading
Today’s post is a guest blog from Michael Curtin in the cellular analysis and proteomics group at Promega.
Glycobiology is the study of carbohydrates and their role in biology. Glycans, defined as “compounds consisting of a large number of monosaccharides linked glycosidically” are present in all living cells and coat cell membranes and are integral components of cell walls (1). They play diverse roles, including critical functions in cell signaling, molecular recognition, immunity and inflammation. They are the cell-surface molecules that define the ABO blood groups and must be taken into consideration to ensure successful blood transfusions. (2).The process by which a sugar moiety is attached to a biological compound is referred to as glycosylation. Protein glycosylation is a form of post-translational modification, which is important for many biological processes and often serves as an analog switch that modulates protein activity.The class of enzymes responsible for transferring the sugar moiety onto proteins is called a glycosyltransferase (GT).
GTs can be divided into three major types based on their roles:
- Oligosaccharide elongation for peptidoglycan biosynthesis
- Regulation of protein activities by post-translational modification
- Small molecule glucuronidation as means of drug metabolism