Chitin: Structure, Chemistry and Biology

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2019:1142:5-18. doi: 10.1007/978-981-13-7318-3_2.


Chitin is a linear polysaccharide of the amino sugar N-acetyl glucosamine. It is present in the extracellular matrix of a variety of invertebrates including sponges, molluscs, nematodes and arthropods and fungi. Generally, it is an important component of protective or supportive extracellular matrices that cover the tissue that produces it or the whole body of the organism. Chitin fibres associate with each other adopting one of three possible crystalline organisations, i.e. α-, β- or γ-chitin. Usually, chitin fibre bundles interact with chitin-binding proteins forming higher order structures. Chitin laminae, which are two-dimensional sheets of α-chitin crystals with antiparallel running chitin fibres in association with β-folded proteins, are primary constituents of the arthropod cuticle and the fibrous extracellular matrix in sponges. A tri-dimensional composite material of proteins coacervates and β-chitin constitute hard biomaterials such as the squid beak. The molecular composition of γ-chitin-based structures that contribute to the physical barrier found in insect cocoons is less well studied. In principle, chitin is a versatile extracellular polysaccharide that in association with proteins defines the mechanical properties of tissues and organisms.

Keywords: Barrier; Body shape; Cuticle; Evolution; Extracellular matrix.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carbohydrate Conformation
  • Chitin / chemistry*
  • Extracellular Matrix / chemistry*
  • Insecta*
  • Invertebrates
  • Proteins


  • Proteins
  • Chitin