Biological functions of fucose in mammals

Glycobiology. 2017 Jul 1;27(7):601-618. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cwx034.


Fucose is a 6-deoxy hexose in the l-configuration found in a large variety of different organisms. In mammals, fucose is incorporated into N-glycans, O-glycans and glycolipids by 13 fucosyltransferases, all of which utilize the nucleotide-charged form, GDP-fucose, to modify targets. Three of the fucosyltransferases, FUT8, FUT12/POFUT1 and FUT13/POFUT2, are essential for proper development in mice. Fucose modifications have also been implicated in many other biological functions including immunity and cancer. Congenital mutations of a Golgi apparatus localized GDP-fucose transporter causes leukocyte adhesion deficiency type II, which results in severe developmental and immune deficiencies, highlighting the important role fucose plays in these processes. Additionally, changes in levels of fucosylated proteins have proven as useful tools for determining cancer diagnosis and prognosis. Chemically modified fucose analogs can be used to alter many of these fucose dependent processes or as tools to better understand them. In this review, we summarize the known roles of fucose in mammalian physiology and pathophysiology. Additionally, we discuss recent therapeutic advances for cancer and other diseases that are a direct result of our improved understanding of the role that fucose plays in these systems.

Keywords: cancer; development; fucose; fucosyltransferase; immunology.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fucose / metabolism*
  • Fucosyltransferases / chemistry
  • Fucosyltransferases / genetics
  • Fucosyltransferases / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immune System Diseases / genetics
  • Immune System Diseases / metabolism
  • Metabolic Diseases / genetics
  • Metabolic Diseases / metabolism
  • Mutation
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational*


  • Fucose
  • Fucosyltransferases