Association between Neu5Gc carbohydrate and serum antibodies against it provides the molecular link to cancer: French NutriNet-Santé study

BMC Med. 2020 Sep 23;18(1):262. doi: 10.1186/s12916-020-01721-8.


Background: High consumption of red and processed meat is commonly associated with increased cancer risk, particularly colorectal cancer. Antibodies against the red meat-derived carbohydrate N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc) exacerbate cancer in "human-like" mice. Human anti-Neu5Gc IgG and red meat are both independently proposed to increase cancer risk, yet how diet affects these antibodies is largely unknown.

Methods: We used world global data to demonstrate that colorectal cancer incidence and mortality are associated with increased national meat consumption. In a well-defined large cohort, we used glycomics to measure daily Neu5Gc intake from red meat and dairy, and investigated serum as well as affinity-purified anti-Neu5Gc antibodies. Based on 24-h dietary records, daily Neu5Gc intake was calculated for 19,621 subjects aged ≥ 18 years of the NutriNet-Santé study. Serum and affinity-purified anti-Neu5Gc antibodies were evaluated by ELISA and glycan microarrays in representative 120 individuals, each with at least eighteen 24-h dietary records (aged 45-60, Q1-Q4; aged > 60, Q1 and Q4; 10 men/women per quartile).

Results: We found that high-Neu5Gc diet, gender, and age affect the specificity, levels, and repertoires of anti-Neu5Gc IgG immune responses, but not their affinity. Men consumed more Neu5Gc than women, mostly from red meat (p = 0.0015), and exhibited higher overall serum anti-Neu5Gc IgG levels by ELISA (3.94 ng/μl versus 2.22 ng/μl, respectively; p = 0.039). Detailed glycan microarray analysis against 56 different glycans revealed high Neu5Gc-specificity with increased anti-Neu5Gc IgG and altered repertoires, associated with higher consumption of Neu5Gc from red meat and cow dairy. Affinity purification of serum anti-Neu5Gc antibodies revealed increased levels and biased array repertoire patterns, without an increase in antibody affinity, in individuals consuming higher Neu5Gc levels. Furthermore, in a high-meat diet, antibody diversity patterns on glycan microarrays shifted towards Neu5Gcα3-linked glycans, increasing the α3/α6-glycans ratio score.

Conclusions: We found a clear link between the levels and repertoire of serum anti-Neu5Gc IgG and Neu5Gc intake from red meat and dairy. These precise rational methodologies allowed to develop a Gcemic index to simplify the assessment of Neu5Gc in foods that could potentially be adapted for dietary recommendations to reduce cancer risk.

Keywords: Antibodies; Cancer; Red meat; Sialic acid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies / blood*
  • Carbohydrates
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • France
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neuraminic Acids / blood*
  • Prospective Studies


  • Antibodies
  • Carbohydrates
  • Neuraminic Acids