Role of glycans and glycosyltransferases in the regulation of Notch signaling

Glycobiology. 2010 Aug;20(8):931-49. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cwq053. Epub 2010 Apr 5.


The evolutionarily conserved Notch signaling pathway plays broad and important roles during embryonic development and in adult tissue homeostasis. Unlike most other pathways used during animal development, Notch signaling does not rely on second messengers and intracellular signaling cascades. Instead, pathway activation results in the cleavage of the Notch intracellular domain and its translocation into the nucleus, where it functions as a transcriptional co-activator of the Notch target genes. To ensure tight spatial and temporal regulation of a pathway with such an unusually direct signaling transduction, animal cells have devised a variety of specialized modulatory mechanisms. One such mechanism takes advantage of decorating the Notch extracellular domain with rare types of O-linked glycans. In this review, we will discuss the genetic and biochemical data supporting the notion that carbohydrate modification is essential for Notch signaling and attempt to provide a brief historical overview of how we have learned what we know about the glycobiology of Notch. We will also summarize what is known about the contribution of specific nucleotide-sugar transporters to Notch biology and the roles-enzymatic and non-enzymatic-played by specific glycosyltransferases in the regulation of this pathway. Mutations in the Notch pathway components cause a variety of human diseases, and manipulation of Notch signaling is emerging as a powerful tool in regenerative medicine. Therefore, studying how sugar modification modulates Notch signaling provides a framework for better understanding the role of glycosylation in animal development and might offer new tools to manipulate Notch signaling for therapeutic purposes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Glycosyltransferases / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Notch / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Polysaccharides
  • Receptors, Notch
  • Glycosyltransferases