Glycosylation as a regulator of site-specific metastasis

Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2022 Mar;41(1):107-129. doi: 10.1007/s10555-021-10015-1. Epub 2021 Dec 30.


Metastasis is considered to be responsible for 90% of cancer-related deaths. Although it is clinically evident that metastatic patterns vary by primary tumor type, the molecular mechanisms underlying the site-specific nature of metastasis are an area of active investigation. One mechanism that has emerged as an important player in this process is glycosylation, or the addition of sugar moieties onto protein and lipid substrates. Glycosylation is the most common post-translational modification, occurring on more than 50% of translated proteins. Many of those proteins are either secreted or expressed on the cell membrane, thereby making glycosylation an important mediator of cell-cell interactions, including tumor-microenvironment interactions. It has been recently discovered that alteration of glycosylation patterns influences cancer metastasis, both globally and in a site-specific manner. This review will summarize the current knowledge regarding the role of glycosylation in the tropism of cancer cells for several common metastatic sites, including the bone, lung, brain, and lymph nodes.

Keywords: Bone metastasis; Brain metastasis; Glycosyltransferase; Lung metastasis; Lymph node metastasis; Organotropism; Sialylation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Glycosylation
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / pathology
  • Tumor Microenvironment