Salivary N-glycosylation as a biomarker of oral cancer: A pilot study

Glycobiology. 2019 Sep 20;29(10):726-734. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cwz046.


Reliable biomarkers for oral cancer (OC) remain scarce, and routine tests for the detection of precancerous lesions are not routine in the clinical setting. This study addresses a current unmet need for more sensitive and quantitative tools for the management of OC. Whole saliva was used to identify and characterize the nature of glycans present in saliva and determine their potential as OC biomarkers. Proteins obtained from whole saliva were subjected to PNGase F enzymatic digestion. The resulting N-glycans were analyzed with weak anion exchange chromatography, exoglycosidase digestions coupled to ultra-high performance liquid chromatography and/or mass spectrometry. To determine N-glycan changes, 23 individuals with or without cancerous oral lesions were analyzed using Hydrophilic interaction ultra performance liquid chromatography (HILIC-UPLC), and peak-based area relative quantitation was performed. An abundant and complex salivary N-glycomic profile was identified. The main structures present in saliva were neutral oligosaccharides consisting of high mannose, hybrid and complex structures, followed by smaller fractions of mono and di-sialylated structures. To determine if differential N-glycosylation patterns distinguish between OC and control groups, Mann-Whitney testing and principle component analysis (PCA) were used. Eleven peaks were shown to be statistically significant (P ≤ 0.05), while PCA analysis showed segregation of the two groups based on their glycan profile. N-glycosylation changes are active in the oral carcinogenic process and may serve as biomarkers for early detection to reduce morbidity and mortality. Identifying which N-glycans contribute most in the carcinogenic process may lead to their use in the detection, prognosis and treatment of OC.

Keywords: biomarkers; cancer biology; glycobiology; prevention; translational research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / chemistry
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / isolation & purification
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Female
  • Glycoside Hydrolases / chemistry
  • Glycosylation
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mannose / chemistry
  • Mannose / isolation & purification
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouth Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Mouth Neoplasms / genetics
  • Mouth Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Oligosaccharides / chemistry
  • Oligosaccharides / isolation & purification*
  • Oligosaccharides / metabolism
  • Peptide-N4-(N-acetyl-beta-glucosaminyl) Asparagine Amidase / chemistry
  • Polysaccharides / isolation & purification
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism*
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Saliva / metabolism


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Polysaccharides
  • Glycoside Hydrolases
  • Peptide-N4-(N-acetyl-beta-glucosaminyl) Asparagine Amidase
  • Mannose