Sweet new world: glycoproteins in bacterial pathogens

Trends Microbiol. 2003 Dec;11(12):554-61. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2003.10.004.


In eukaryotes, the combinatorial potential of carbohydrates is used for the modulation of protein function. However, despite the wealth of cell wall and surface-associated carbohydrates and glycoconjugates, the accepted dogma has been that prokaryotes are not able to glycosylate proteins. This has now changed and protein glycosylation in prokaryotes is an accepted fact. Intriguingly, in Gram-negative bacteria most glycoproteins are associated with virulence factors of medically significant pathogens. Also, important steps in pathogenesis have been linked to the glycan substitution of surface proteins, indicating that the glycosylation of bacterial proteins might serve specific functions in infection and pathogenesis and interfere with inflammatory immune responses. Therefore, the carbohydrate modifications and glycosylation pathways of bacterial proteins will become new targets for therapeutic and prophylactic measures. Here we discuss recent findings on the structure, genetics and function of glycoproteins of medically important bacteria and potential applications of bacterial glycosylation systems for the generation of novel glycoconjugates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adhesins, Bacterial / chemistry
  • Adhesins, Bacterial / metabolism
  • Bacteria / chemistry
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity*
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / chemistry
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Wall / chemistry
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / chemistry
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / metabolism
  • Glycoproteins / chemistry*
  • Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Glycoproteins / metabolism*
  • Glycosylation
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry
  • Membrane Proteins / physiology
  • Virulence Factors / chemistry
  • Virulence Factors / metabolism


  • Adhesins, Bacterial
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Glycoproteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Virulence Factors