"Just a spoonful of sugar...": import of sialic acid across bacterial cell membranes

Biophys Rev. 2018 Apr;10(2):219-227. doi: 10.1007/s12551-017-0343-x. Epub 2017 Dec 8.


Eukaryotic cell surfaces are decorated with a complex array of glycoconjugates that are usually capped with sialic acids, a large family of over 50 structurally distinct nine-carbon amino sugars, the most common member of which is N-acetylneuraminic acid. Once made available through the action of neuraminidases, bacterial pathogens and commensals utilise host-derived sialic acid by degrading it for energy or repurposing the sialic acid onto their own cell surface to camouflage the bacterium from the immune system. A functional sialic acid transporter has been shown to be essential for the uptake of sialic acid in a range of human bacterial pathogens and important for host colonisation and persistence. Here, we review the state-of-play in the field with respect to the molecular mechanisms by which these bio-nanomachines transport sialic acids across bacterial cell membranes.

Keywords: ABC transporter; NanT; Porins; Sialic acid; Sodium solute symporters; TRAP transporter.

Publication types

  • Review