Mass spectrometry and glycomics

OMICS. 2010 Aug;14(4):401-18. doi: 10.1089/omi.2009.0146.


Glycosylation defines the adhesive properties of animal cell surfaces and the surrounding extracellular environments. Because cells respond to stimuli by altering glycan expression, glycan structures vary according to spatial location in tissue and temporal factors. These dynamic structural expression patterns, combined with the essential roles glycans play in physiology, drive the need for analytical methods for glycoconjugates. In addition, recombinant glycoprotein drug products represent a multibillion dollar market. Effective analytical methods are needed to speed the identification of new targets and the development of industrial glycoprotein products, both new and biosimilar. Mass spectrometry is an enabling technology in glycomics. This review summarizes mass spectrometry of glycoconjugate glycans. The intent is to summarize appropriate methods for glycans given their chemical properties as distinct from those of proteins, lipids, and small molecule metabolites. Special attention is given to the uses of mass spectral profiling for glycomics with respect to the N-linked, O-linked, ganglioside, and glycosaminoglycan compound classes. Next, the uses of tandem mass spectrometry of glycans are summarized. The review finishes with an update on mass spectral glycoproteomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Glycomics / methods*
  • Glycoproteins / chemistry
  • Glycosylation
  • Humans
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Milk / chemistry
  • Polysaccharides / chemistry*
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization


  • Glycoproteins
  • Polysaccharides