Many adhesion and signaling molecules critical for development, as well as surface markers implicated in diseases ranging from cancer to influenza, contain oligosaccharides that modify their functions. Inside a cell, complex glycosylation pathways assemble these oligosaccharides and attach them to proteins and lipids as they traffic to the cell surface. Until recently, practical technologies to manipulate glycosylation have lagged unlike the molecular biologic and genetic methods available to intervene in nucleic acid and protein biochemistry; now, metabolic oligosaccharide engineering shows promise for manipulating glycosylation. In this methodology, exogenously-supplied non-natural sugars intercept biosynthetic pathways and exploit the remarkable ability of many of the enzymes involved in glycosylation to process metabolites with slightly altered chemical structures. To date, non-natural forms of sialic acid, GalNAc, GlcNAc, and fucose have been incorporated into glycoconjugates that appear on the cell surface; in addition O-GlcNAc protein modification involved in intracellular signaling has been tagged with modified forms of this sugar. Reactive functional groups, including ketones, azides, and thiols, have been incorporated into glycoconjugates and thereby provide chemical 'tags' that can be used for diverse purposes ranging from drug delivery to new modes of carbohydrate-based cell adhesion that can be used to control stem cell destiny. Finally, strategies for further engineering non-natural sugars to improve their pharmacological properties and provide complementary biological activities, such as addition of short chain fatty acids, are discussed in this article.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology