GlycobiologyThe discovery of glycan function and its fundamental applications

Published November 2012 Updated March 2014 16 lectures
Prof. Michael Pierce
University of Georgia, USA

Glycobiology is a fundamental discipline that encompasses the study of glycans, or complex carbohydrates, that are found in all cells and some viruses, most of which are expressed on the outer surfaces surrounding cells. From the glycans that make up the plant cell wall to those that regulate steps in... read morevertebrate embryogenesis through receptor signaling, glycans display diverse structures and functions but have in common the fact that they are composed of sugars.

Unlike nucleic acids (which do have a sugar backbone) and proteins that are linear in nature, glycans are usually branched structures, adding to their complexity and complicating analysis. Glycan structures that are expressed on proteins clearly regulate the function of those proteins, and in the case of asparagine-linked glycans on glycoproteins, are involved in protein folding during biosynthesis.

Moreover, many proteins in plants and animals have evolved to recognize glycan structures specifically and with high affinity or avidity. Examples of protein-glycan recognition are those involved directly in innate immunity, as well as those that regulate the first step of the inflammatory response. Due to the recent improvements in analytical tools, such as mass spectrometry and glycan arrays, there is a heightened appreciation of the diversity of glycan structures and their myriad functions, as well as the impact of glycobiology on essentially every area of biology.