A biological guide to glycosaminoglycans: current perspectives and pending questions

FEBS J. 2024 Mar 18. doi: 10.1111/febs.17107. Online ahead of print.


Mammalian glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), except hyaluronan (HA), are sulfated polysaccharides that are covalently attached to core proteins to form proteoglycans (PGs). This article summarizes key biological findings for the most widespread GAGs, namely HA, chondroitin sulfate/dermatan sulfate (CS/DS), keratan sulfate (KS), and heparan sulfate (HS). It focuses on the major processes that remain to be deciphered to get a comprehensive view of the mechanisms mediating GAG biological functions. They include the regulation of GAG biosynthesis and postsynthetic modifications in heparin (HP) and HS, the composition, heterogeneity, and function of the tetrasaccharide linkage region and its role in disease, the functional characterization of the new PGs recently identified by glycoproteomics, the selectivity of interactions mediated by GAG chains, the display of GAG chains and PGs at the cell surface and their impact on the availability and activity of soluble ligands, and on their move through the glycocalyx layer to reach their receptors, the human GAG profile in health and disease, the roles of GAGs and particular PGs (syndecans, decorin, and biglycan) involved in cancer, inflammation, and fibrosis, the possible use of GAGs and PGs as disease biomarkers, and the design of inhibitors targeting GAG biosynthetic enzymes and GAG-protein interactions to develop novel therapeutic approaches.

Keywords: biological functions; biomaterials; biosynthesis; cancer; drugs; glycosaminoglycans; inflammation; interactions; small leucine-rich proteoglycans; syndecans.

Publication types

  • Review