Altered glycosylation in cancer: A promising target for biomarkers and therapeutics

Divya Thomas, Ashok Kumar Rathinavel, Prakash Radhakrishnan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

130 Scopus citations


Glycosylation is a well-regulated cell and microenvironment specific post-translational modification. Several glycosyltransferases and glycosidases orchestrate the addition of defined glycan structures on the proteins and lipids. Recent advances and systemic approaches in glycomics have significantly contributed to a better understanding of instrumental roles of glycans in health and diseases. Emerging research evidence recognized aberrantly glycosylated proteins as the modulators of the malignant phenotype of cancer cells. The Cancer Genome Atlas has identified alterations in the expressions of glycosylation-specific genes that are correlated with cancer progression. However, the mechanistic basis remains poorly explored. Recent researches have shown that specific changes in the glycan structures are associated with 'stemness' and epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition of cancer cells. Moreover, epigenetic changes in the glycosylation pattern make the tumor cells capable of escaping immunosurveillance mechanisms. The deciphering roles of glycans in cancer emphasize that glycans can serve as a source for the development of novel clinical biomarkers. The ability of glycans in intervening various stages of tumor progression and the biosynthetic pathways involved in glycan structures constitute a promising target for cancer therapy. Advances in the knowledge of innovative strategies for identifying the mechanisms of glycan-binding proteins are hoped to hold great potential in cancer therapy. This review discusses the fundamental role of glycans in regulating tumorigenesis and tumor progression and provides insights into the influence of glycans in the current tactics of targeted therapies in the clinical setting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number188464
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Reviews on Cancer
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Biomarker
  • Cancer
  • Glycans
  • Glycoconjugate drugs
  • Glycosyltransferases
  • Vaccines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Genetics
  • Cancer Research


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