What is Glycobiology?
The availability of unique carbohydrate reagents combined with
new techniques to assay the interaction between carbohydrate ligands and their receptors
has led to a dramatic increase in recent discoveries of the biological functions of
complex carbohydrates. A new field, Glycobiology, has emerged which combines expertise in
both carbohydrate biochemistry and molecular biology. Carbohydrate sequences contain much
structural information which is exploited in many forms of biological recognition.
Examples of the interaction of cells with cytokines, hormones, toxins, antibodies,
lectins, bacteria, viruses, and other cells have all been demonstrated to involve
carbohydrate recognition. As secondary gene products, changes in the structures of cell
surface carbohydrates are particularly sensitive to conditions of the cell's biology, such
as the state of differentiation, cell cycle, or growth conditions. Both the amount and
types of glycosyltransferases that exist in the cell are responsible for variable surface
expression of carbohydrate structures. Competition among the enzymes in these complex
biosynthetic pathways act as switches to regulate the expression of carbohydrate
structure. Thus, the high degree of structural information combined with intricate
controls for their expression bestow carbohydrates with the required properties to act as
As recognition molecules, carbohydrates structures play critical roles in many
biological functions. Identification of these bioactive carbohydrates presents a timely
opportunity for carbohydrate biochemists to determine the precise functional domain of the
carbohydrate ligand for the development of a new class of phamaceutical reagents.
Advantages of these new pharmaceuticals over traditional drug candidates are the
application of directed rational drug design, a high degree of specificity, greater
efficacy, and the development of strong proprietary positions.
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