Unlike their protein "roommates" and their nucleic acid "cousins," carbohydrates remain an enigmatic arm of biology. The central reason for the difficulty in fully understanding how carbohydrate structure and biological function are tied is the nontemplate nature of their synthesis and the resulting heterogeneity. The goal of this collection of expert reviews is to highlight what is known about how carbohydrates and their binding partners-the microbial (non-self), tumor (altered-self), and host (self)-cooperate within the immune system, while also identifying areas of opportunity to those willing to take up the challenge of understanding more about how carbohydrates influence immune responses. In the end, these reviews will serve as specific examples of how carbohydrates are as integral to biology as are proteins, nucleic acids, and lipids. Here, we attempt to summarize general concepts on glycans and glycan-binding proteins (mainly C-type lectins, siglecs, and galectins) and their contributions to the biology of immune responses in physiologic and pathologic settings.
© 2012 New York Academy of Sciences.