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J Hepatol. 2009 Mar;50(3):592-603. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2008.12.010. Epub 2008 Dec 27.

Alteration of protein glycosylation in liver diseases.

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Department of Hepatology and Gastroenterology, Ghent University Hospital, Ghent, Belgium.


Chronic liver diseases are a serious health problem worldwide. The current gold standard to assess structural liver damage is through a liver biopsy which has several disadvantages. A non-invasive, simple and non-expensive test to diagnose liver pathology would be highly desirable. Protein glycosylation has drawn the attention of many researchers in the search for an objective feature to achieve this goal. Glycosylation is a posttranslational modification of many secreted proteins and it has been known for decades that structural changes in the glycan structures of serum proteins are an indication for liver damage. The aim of this paper is to give an overview of this altered protein glycosylation in different etiologies of liver fibrosis / cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Although individual liver diseases have their own specific markers, the same modifications seem to continuously reappear in all liver diseases: hyperfucosylation, increased branching and a bisecting N-acetylglucosamine. Analysis at mRNA and protein level of the corresponding glycosyltransferases confirm their altered status in liver pathology. The last part of this review deals with some recently developed glycomic techniques that could potentially be used in the diagnosis of liver pathology.

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