O-glycan recognition and function in mice and human cancers


Cervoni GE, Cheng JJ, Stackhouse KA, Heimburg-Molinaro J, Cummings RD. O-glycan recognition and function in mice and human cancers. Biochem J. 2020;477 (8) :1541-1564.

Date Published:

2020 Apr 30


Protein glycosylation represents a nearly ubiquitous post-translational modification, and altered glycosylation can result in clinically significant pathological consequences. Here we focus on O-glycosylation in tumor cells of mice and humans. O-glycans are those linked to serine and threonine (Ser/Thr) residues via N-acetylgalactosamine (GalNAc), which are oligosaccharides that occur widely in glycoproteins, such as those expressed on the surfaces and in secretions of all cell types. The structure and expression of O-glycans are dependent on the cell type and disease state of the cells. There is a great interest in O-glycosylation of tumor cells, as they typically express many altered types of O-glycans compared with untransformed cells. Such altered expression of glycans, quantitatively and/or qualitatively on different glycoproteins, is used as circulating tumor biomarkers, such as CA19-9 and CA-125. Other tumor-associated carbohydrate antigens (TACAs), such as the Tn antigen and sialyl-Tn antigen (STn), are truncated O-glycans commonly expressed by carcinomas on multiple glycoproteins; they contribute to tumor development and serve as potential biomarkers for tumor presence and stage, both in immunohistochemistry and in serum diagnostics. Here we discuss O-glycosylation in murine and human cells with a focus on colorectal, breast, and pancreatic cancers, centering on the structure, function and recognition of O-glycans. There are enormous opportunities to exploit our knowledge of O-glycosylation in tumor cells to develop new diagnostics and therapeutics.