Home > A. Molecular pathology > glycans


Tuesday 10 May 2005

Definition: A glycan is a polysaccharide or oligosaccharide among carbohydrates. Glycan may also be used to refer to the carbohydrate portion of a glycoconjugate, such as a glycoprotein, glycolipid, or a proteoglycan.

Glycans usually consist solely of O-glycosidic linkages of monosaccharides. For example, cellulose is a glycan (or more specifically a glucan) composed of beta-1,4-linked D-glucose, and chitin is a glycan composed of beta-1,4-linked N-acetyl-D-glucosamine.

Glycans can be homo or heteropolymers of monosaccharide residues, and can be linear (linear glycans) or branched (branched glycans).

The spectrum of all glycan structures (glycome) is immense. In humans, its size is orders of magnitude greater than the number of proteins that are encoded by the genome, one percent of which encodes proteins that make, modify, localize or bind sugar chains, which are known as glycans.


- glycan metabolism diseases

  • Over 30 genetic diseases have been identified that alter glycan synthesis and structure, and ultimately the function of nearly all organ systems. Many of the causal mutations affect key biosynthetic enzymes, but more recent discoveries point to defects in chaperones and Golgi-trafficking complexes that impair several glycosylation pathways.

- glycans and cancer

  • A growing body of evidence supports crucial roles for glycans at various pathophysiological steps of tumour progression. Glycans regulate tumour proliferation, invasion, haematogenous metastasis and angiogenesis, and increased understanding of these roles sets the stage for developing pharmaceutical agents that target these molecules. Such novel agents might be used alone or in combination with operative and/or chemoradiation strategies for treating cancer.

See also

- glycan metabolism


- Freeze HH. Genetic defects in the human glycome. Nat Rev Genet. 2006 Jul;7(7):537-51. Nat Rev Genet. 2006 Aug;7(8):660. PMID: 16755287

- Fuster MM, Esko JD. The sweet and sour of cancer: glycans as novel therapeutic targets. Nat Rev Cancer. 2005 Jul;5(7):526-42. PMID: 16069816

- Dube DH, Bertozzi CR. Glycans in cancer and inflammation - potential for therapeutics and diagnostics. Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2005 Jun;4(6):477-88. PMID: 15931257

- Kleene R, Schachner M. Glycans and neural cell interactions. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2004 Mar;5(3):195-208. PMID: 14976519