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Electrophoresis. 2012 Mar;33(5):797-814. doi: 10.1002/elps.201100231.

Harnessing glycomics technologies: integrating structure with function for glycan characterization.

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Department of Biological Engineering, Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences & Technology and Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA.


Glycans, or complex carbohydrates, are a ubiquitous class of biological molecule which impinge on a variety of physiological processes ranging from signal transduction to tissue development and microbial pathogenesis. In comparison to DNA and proteins, glycans present unique challenges to the study of their structure and function owing to their complex and heterogeneous structures and the dominant role played by multivalency in their sequence-specific biological interactions. Arising from these challenges, there is a need to integrate information from multiple complementary methods to decode structure-function relationships. Focusing on acidic glycans, we describe here key glycomics technologies for characterizing their structural attributes, including linkage, modifications, and topology, as well as for elucidating their role in biological processes. Two cases studies, one involving sialylated branched glycans and the other sulfated glycosaminoglycans, are used to highlight how integration of orthogonal information from diverse datasets enables rapid convergence of glycan characterization for development of robust structure-function relationships.

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