New Horizons in Glycobiology Research

A FEBS Letters Special Issue edited by Sandro Sonnino
New Horizons in Glycobiology Research

Introduction to the FEBS Letters Special Issue on Glycobiology through the Editorial by Sandro Sonnino.

Carbohydrates are important bricks for life, playing a significant role as dietary components necessary for the correct course of several mammalian metabolic processes and for energy production. However, when they are linked to proteins and lipids, they acquire new functions and become important cell structural compounds as well as the regulators of a quantity of physiological processes. Glycoproteins, glycolipids and glycosaminoglycans, which together belong to the great family of glycoconjugates, are ubiquitous compounds in eukaryotic cells, and play crucial roles in all aspects of cell and tissue biology 1. Glycans, due to the freedom of the glycosidic linkage torsional angles, may display different conformational structures due to the environment, to head‐to‐head or to side‐by‐side interactions. This is instrumental for their regulatory functions.

Life can be stunted if not inhibited by incorrect or aberrant metabolic processes involving glycoconjugates. Thus, in the last decades research on glycoconjugates associated to oncology and cardiovascular diseases is rapidly expanding and attracting growing interest.

The complexity of glycans and of glycoconjugates is somewhat unexpected. Glycans display very intricate structures and their chemical synthesis is hard to achieve and limited to specialized laboratories. From the theoretical point of view, starting from the small group of four sugars, near to 7.5 × 106 different glycans may be designed, differing in sequence, anomeric linkages, linkage position and ring size (pyranose or furanose). Thus, the number of glycans is far higher than that related to peptides containing four units, that is, 256 2. This explains why the synthesis of specific cell glycans remains far from a routine process. Nevertheless, the ‘cell laboratory’ does this, and in addition, associates glycans to the amino acids asparagine and serine of a protein, to ceramide, to cholesterol or to phosphatidic acid with high precision. Cells synthesize thousands of glycoconjugates by combining the activity of a multitude of enzymes. To avoid mistakes, each enzyme of glycan biosynthesis shows a double specificity, for the donor and for the acceptor, and displays specific subcellular topology. Thus, any glycoconjugate requires multiple genes for its production. To make the biochemistry of these compounds more complex, the quantity of glycoconjugates necessary for cellular functions is determined by a complex network of metabolic pathways requiring a perfect relationship between biosynthesis in the Golgi apparatus, catabolism in the lysosomes and intracellular trafficking.

In this FEBS Letters Special Issue, we present 12 Reviews, written by outstanding Scientists, covering some of the currently hottest topics in the field of Glycobiology, including stem cell regulation 3; neural development and neurodegeneration 4, 5; signalling 6; ganglioside metabolism 7; microbe–host interaction and vaccine design 8, 9; immunology 10, 11; O‐GlcNAcylation 11, 12; and new technologies related to Glycobiology 13, 14. We feel that this broad Special Issue will be instrumental for scientists interested in starting research in the field of Glycobiology or in better developing their ongoing studies.

We thank all the exceptional Authors who enthusiastically offered their contribution.


1 Consortium of glycobiology (2017) Essentials of Glycobiology (Consortium of Glycobiology, eds), pp. 1823. La Jolla, California: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Cold Spring Harbor, New York
2 Laine RA (1994) A calculation of all possible oligosaccharide isomers both branched and linear yields 1.05 x 1012 structures for a reducing hexasaccharide: the Isomer Barrier to development of single-method saccharide sequencing or synthesis systems. Glycobiology 4, 759767.
3 Nishihara S (2018) Glycans in stem cell regulation: from Drosophila tissue stem cells to mammalian pluripotent stem cells. FEBS Lett 592, 37733790.
4 Schwartz NB and Domowicz MS (2018) Proteoglycans in brain development and pathogenesis. FEBS Lett 592,
5 Maiza A, Chantepie S, Vera C, Fifre A, Huynh MB, Stettler O, Ouidja MO and Papy-Garcia D (2018) The
role of heparan sulfates in protein aggregation and their potential impact on neurodegeneration. FEBS Lett 592, 38063818.
6 Varshney S and Stanley P (2018) Multiple roles for O-Glycans in notch signalling. FEBS Lett 592, 38193834.
7 Sandhoff R and Sandhoff K (2018) Emerging concepts of ganglioside metabolism. FEBS Lett 592, 38353864.

8 Hobbs JK, Pluvinage B and Boraston AB (2018) Glycan-metabolizing enzymes in microbehost interactions: the
Streptococcus pneumoniae paradigm. FEBS Lett 592, 38653897.
9 Bagdonaite I, Vakhrushev SY, Joshi HJ and Wandall HH (2018) Viral glycoproteomes: technologies for
characterization and outlook for vaccine design. FEBS Lett 592, 38983920.
10 Nakayama H, Nagafuku M, Suzuki A, Iwabuchi K and Inokuchi JI (2018) The regulatory roles of glycosphingolipid-enriched lipid rafts in immune systems. FEBS Lett 592, 39213942.
11 Abramowitz LK and Hanover J (2018) T cell development and the physiological role of O-GlcNAc. FEBS Lett 592,39433949.
12 Zachara NE (2018) Critical observations that shaped our understanding of the function(s) of Intracellular Glycosylation (O-GlcNAc). FEBS Lett 592, 39503975.
13 Li Z and Feizi T (2018) The neoglycolipid (NGL) technology-based microarrays and future prospects. FEBS Lett 592, 39763991.
14 Schwartzmann G (2018) Labeled gangliosides: their synthesis and use in biological studies.

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