Advances in cell surface glycoengineering reveal biological function

Nicole Nischan, Jennifer J. Kohler

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Cell surface glycans are critical mediators of cell-cell, cell-ligand, and cell-pathogen interactions. By controlling the set of glycans displayed on the surface of a cell, it is possible to gain insight into the biological functions of glycans. Moreover, control of glycan expression can be used to direct cellular behavior. While genetic approaches to manipulate glycosyltransferase gene expression are available, their utility in glycan engineering has limitations due to the combinatorial nature of glycan biosynthesis and the functional redundancy of glycosyltransferase genes. Biochemical and chemical strategies offer valuable complements to these genetic approaches, notably by enabling introduction of unnatural functionalities, such as fluorophores, into cell surface glycans. Here, we describe some of the most recent developments in glycoengineering of cell surfaces, with an emphasis on strategies that employ novel chemical reagents. We highlight key examples of how these advances in cell surface glycan engineering enable study of cell surface glycans and their function. Exciting new technologies include synthetic lipid-glycans, new chemical reporters for metabolic oligosaccharide engineering to allow tandem and in vivo labeling of glycans, improved chemical and enzymatic methods for glycoproteomics, and metabolic glycosyltransferase inhibitors. Many chemical and biochemical reagents for glycan engineering are commercially available, facilitating their adoption by the biological community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016


  • glycan labeling
  • glycoproteomics
  • glycosyltransferases
  • metabolic oligosaccharide engineering
  • metabolism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry


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