Sialic acids in molecular and cellular interactions

Int Rev Cytol. 1997;175:137-240. doi: 10.1016/s0074-7696(08)62127-0.


Sialic acids (Sias) are terminal components of many glycoproteins and glycolipids especially of higher animals. In this exposed position they contribute significantly to the structural properties of these molecules, both in solution and on cell surfaces. Therefore, it is not surprising that Sias are important regulators of cellular and molecular interactions, in which they play a dual role. They can either mask recognition sites or serve as recognition determinants. Whereas the role of Sias in masking and in binding of pathogens to host cells has been documented over many years, their role in nonpathological cellular interaction has only been shown recently. The aim of this chapter is to summarize our knowledge about Sias in masking, for example, galactose residues, and to review the progress made during the past few years with respect to Sias as recognition determinants in the adhesion of pathogenic viruses, bacteria, and protozoa, and particularly as binding sites for endogenous cellular interaction molecules. Finally, perspectives for future research on these topics are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacteria / ultrastructure
  • Binding Sites
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology
  • Cell Communication / physiology*
  • Cells / metabolism*
  • Cells / ultrastructure
  • Galactosides / metabolism
  • Humans
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid / chemistry
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid / physiology*


  • Galactosides
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid