Beta-glucans, History, and the Present: Immunomodulatory Aspects and Mechanisms of Action

J Immunotoxicol. 2008 Jan;5(1):47-57. doi: 10.1080/15476910802019045.


The present paper represents a comprehensive up-to-date review of beta -glucans, their chemical and biological properties, and their role in immunological reactions. beta -D-Glucans belong to a group of physiologically active compounds called biological response modifiers and represent highly conserved structural components of cell walls in yeast, fungi, or seaweed. Despite almost 150 years of research, the exact mechanisms of their action remain unclear. The present review starts with the history of glucans. Next, attention is focused on sources and structure, comparing the effects of physicochemical properties, and sources on biological effects. As glucans belong to natural products useful in preventing various diseases, they have been highly sought after throughout human history. Based on extensive recent research, this paper explains the various mechanisms of effects and the ways glucans mediate their effects on defense reactions against infections. Despite the fact that predominately pharmacological effects of glucans are positive, their unfavorable and potentially toxic side effects were not overlooked. In addition, attention was focused on the future research, possible alternatives such as synthetic oligosaccharides, and on clinical applications.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antigen Presentation / drug effects
  • Antigen Presentation / immunology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cell Wall / chemistry
  • Cell Wall / metabolism
  • Fungi / chemistry
  • Fungi / classification
  • Fungi / isolation & purification
  • Fungi / metabolism
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors* / chemistry
  • Immunologic Factors* / history
  • Immunologic Factors* / immunology
  • Immunologic Factors* / metabolism
  • Immunologic Factors* / therapeutic use
  • Inflammation Mediators / adverse effects
  • Macrophage Activation / drug effects
  • Macrophage Activation / immunology
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Toll-Like Receptors / immunology
  • Toll-Like Receptors / metabolism
  • beta-Glucans* / chemistry
  • beta-Glucans* / history
  • beta-Glucans* / immunology
  • beta-Glucans* / metabolism
  • beta-Glucans* / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Toll-Like Receptors
  • beta-Glucans