Glycans as Key Checkpoints of T Cell Activity and Function

Front Immunol. 2018 Nov 27:9:2754. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2018.02754. eCollection 2018.


The immune system is highly controlled and fine-tuned by glycosylation, through the addition of a diversity of carbohydrates structures (glycans) to virtually all immune cell receptors. Despite a relative backlog in understanding the importance of glycans in the immune system, due to its inherent complexity, remarkable findings have been highlighting the essential contributions of glycosylation in the regulation of both innate and adaptive immune responses with important implications in the pathogenesis of major diseases such as autoimmunity and cancer. Glycans are implicated in fundamental cellular and molecular processes that regulate both stimulatory and inhibitory immune pathways. Besides being actively involved in pathogen recognition through interaction with glycan-binding proteins (such as C-type lectins), glycans have been also shown to regulate key pathophysiological steps within T cell biology such as T cell development and thymocyte selection; T cell activity and signaling as well as T cell differentiation and proliferation. These effects of glycans in T cells functions highlight their importance as determinants of either self-tolerance or T cell hyper-responsiveness which ultimately might be implicated in the creation of tolerogenic pathways in cancer or loss of immunological tolerance in autoimmunity. This review discusses how specific glycans (with a focus on N-linked glycans) act as regulators of T cell biology and their implications in disease.

Keywords: N-glycosylation; T cells; autoimmunity; glycans; immune response; self-tolerance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance / immunology
  • Lectins, C-Type / immunology
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Polysaccharides / immunology*
  • Self Tolerance / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*


  • Lectins, C-Type
  • Polysaccharides