Hypersialylation in Cancer: Modulation of Inflammation and Therapeutic Opportunities

Cancers (Basel). 2018 Jun 18;10(6):207. doi: 10.3390/cancers10060207.


Cell surface glycosylation is dynamic and often changes in response to cellular differentiation under physiological or pathophysiological conditions. Altered glycosylation on cancers cells is gaining attention due its wide-spread occurrence across a variety of cancer types and recent studies that have documented functional roles for aberrant glycosylation in driving cancer progression at various stages. One change in glycosylation that can correlate with cancer stage and disease prognosis is hypersialylation. Increased levels of sialic acid are pervasive in cancer and a growing body of evidence demonstrates how hypersialylation is advantageous to cancer cells, particularly from the perspective of modulating immune cell responses. Sialic acid-binding receptors, such as Siglecs and Selectins, are well-positioned to be exploited by cancer hypersialylation. Evidence is also mounting that Siglecs modulate key immune cell types in the tumor microenvironment, particularly those responsible for maintaining the appropriate inflammatory environment. From these studies have come new and innovative ways to block the effects of hypersialylation by directly reducing sialic acid on cancer cells or blocking interactions between sialic acid and Siglecs or Selectins. Here we review recent works examining how cancer cells become hypersialylated, how hypersialylation benefits cancer cells and tumors, and proposed therapies to abrogate hypersialylation of cancer.

Keywords: Selectin; Siglec; glycosylation; immunosurveillance; inflammation; lectin; sialic acid; tumor-associated macrophage.

Publication types

  • Review