MCAW-DB: A glycan profile database capturing the ambiguity of glycan recognition patterns

Carbohydr Res. 2018 Jul 15;464:44-56. doi: 10.1016/j.carres.2018.05.003. Epub 2018 May 11.


Glycan-binding protein (GBP) interaction experiments, such as glycan microarrays, are often used to understand glycan recognition patterns. However, oftentimes the interpretation of glycan array experimental data makes it difficult to identify discrete GBP binding patterns due to their ambiguity. It is known that lectins, for example, are non-specific in their binding affinities; the same lectin can bind to different monosaccharides or even different glycan structures. In bioinformatics, several tools to mine the data generated from these sorts of experiments have been developed. These tools take a library of predefined motifs, which are commonly-found glycan patterns such as sialyl-Lewis X, and attempt to identify the motif(s) that are specific to the GBP being analyzed. In our previous work, as opposed to using predefined motifs, we developed the Multiple Carbohydrate Alignment with Weights (MCAW) tool to visualize the state of the glycans being recognized by the GBP under analysis. We previously reported on the effectiveness of our tool and algorithm by analyzing several glycan array datasets from the Consortium of Functional Glycomics (CFG). In this work, we report on our analysis of 1081 data sets which we collected from the CFG, the results of which we have made publicly and freely available as a database called MCAW-DB. We introduce this database, its usage and describe several analysis results. We show how MCAW-DB can be used to analyze glycan-binding patterns of GBPs amidst their ambiguity. For example, the visualization of glycan-binding patterns in MCAW-DB show how they correlate with the concentrations of the samples used in the array experiments. Using MCAW-DB, the patterns of glycans found to bind to various GBP-glycan binding proteins are visualized, indicating the binding "environment" of the glycans. Thus, the ambiguity of glycan recognition is numerically represented, along with the patterns of monosaccharides surrounding the binding region. The profiles in MCAW-DB could potentially be used as predictors of affinity of unknown or novel glycans to particular GBPs by comparing how well they match the existing profiles for those GBPs. Moreover, as the glycan profiles of diseased tissues become available, glycan alignments could also be used to identify glycan biomarkers unique to that tissue. Databases of these alignments may be of great use for drug discovery.

Keywords: Glycan binding proteins; Glycan motif; Glycan recognition; Lectins; Multiple glycan alignment.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Carbohydrate Sequence
  • Databases, Factual*
  • Glycomics*
  • Influenza A Virus, H1N1 Subtype / metabolism
  • Microarray Analysis
  • Polysaccharides / chemistry
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism


  • Polysaccharides
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • saccharide-binding proteins