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Glycobiology. 2008 Dec;18(12):1016-27. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cwn085. Epub 2008 Sep 16.

Structure, biology, evolution, and medical importance of sulfated fucans and galactans.

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Hospital Universitário Clementino Fraga Filho and Programa de Glicobiologia, Instituto de Bioquímica Médica, Centro de Ciências da Saúde, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Caixa Postal 68041, Rio de Janeiro, RJ 21941-590, Brazil.


Sulfated fucans and galactans are strongly anionic polysaccharides found in marine organisms. Their structures vary among species, but their major features are conserved among phyla. Sulfated fucans are found in marine brown algae and echinoderms, whereas sulfated galactans occur in red and green algae, marine angiosperms, tunicates (ascidians), and sea urchins. Polysaccharides with 3-linked, beta-galactose units are highly conserved in some taxonomic groups of marine organisms and show a strong tendency toward 4-sulfation in algae and marine angiosperms, and 2-sulfation in invertebrates. Marine algae mainly express sulfated polysaccharides with complex, heterogeneous structures, whereas marine invertebrates synthesize sulfated fucans and sulfated galactans with regular repetitive structures. These polysaccharides are structural components of the extracellular matrix. Sulfated fucans and galactans are involved in sea urchin fertilization acting as species-specific inducers of the sperm acrosome reaction. Because of this function the structural evolution of sulfated fucans could be a component in the speciation process. The algal and invertebrate polysaccharides are also potent anticoagulant agents of mammalian blood and represent a potential source of compounds for antithrombotic therapies.

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