Background: N- and O-oligosaccharide variants on glycoproteins (glycoforms) can lead to alterations in protein activity or function that may manifest themselves as overt disease.
Approach: This review summarizes those diseases that are known to be the result of an inherited or acquired glycoprotein oligosaccharide structural alteration and that are diagnosed in blood or urine by chemical characterization of that oligosaccharide alteration.
Content: The biochemical synthesis steps and catabolic pathways important in determining glycoprotein function are outlined with emphasis on alterations that lead to modified function. Clinical and biochemical aspects of the diagnosis are described for inherited diseases such as I-cell disease, congenital disorders of glycosylation, leukocyte adhesion deficiency type II, hereditary erythroblastic multinuclearity with a positive acidified serum test, and Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome. We also review the laboratory use of measurements of glycoforms related to acquired diseases such as alcoholism and cancer.
Conclusions: Identification of glycoprotein glycoforms is becoming an increasingly important laboratory contribution to the diagnosis and management of human diseases as more diseases are found to result from glycan structural alterations.