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The Role of Glycans in Immune Cell Functions

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Front. Immunol. | doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2018.02754

Glycans as key checkpoints of T cell activity and function.

Márcia S. Pereira1, 2, 3,  Inês Alves1, 2, 4,  Manuel Vicente1, 2, Ana Campar1, 2, 5, 6,  Mariana C. Silva1, 2, Nuno A. Padrão1, 2, 4,  Vanda Pinto1, 2,  Ângela Fernandes1, 2,  Ana M. Dias1, 2 and  Salomé S. Pinho1, 2, 4*
  • 1Institute of Molecular Pathology and Immunology, University of Porto, Portugal
  • 2i3S, Instituto de Investigação e Inovação em Saúde, Portugal
  • 3Institute of Biomedical Sciences Abel Salazar (ICBAS), Portugal
  • 4Faculty of Medicine, University of Porto, Portugal
  • 5Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas Abel Salazar (ICBAS), Universidade do Porto, Portugal
  • 6Centro Hospitalar do Porto, Portugal

The immune system is highly controlled and fine-tuned by glycosylation, through the addition of a diversity of carbohydrates structures (glycans) to virtually all immune cell receptors. Despite a relative backlog in understanding the importance of glycans in the immune system, due to its inherent complexity, remarkable findings have been highlighting the essential contributions of glycosylation in the regulation of both innate and adaptive immune responses with important implications in the pathogenesis of major diseases such as autoimmunity and cancer. Glycans are implicated in fundamental cellular and molecular processes that regulate both stimulatory and inhibitory immune pathways. Besides being actively involved in pathogen recognition through interaction with glycan-binding proteins (such as C-type lectins), glycans have been also shown to regulate key pathophysiological steps within T cell biology such as T cell development and thymocyte selection; T cell activity and signaling as well as T cell differentiation and proliferation. These effects of glycans in T cells functions highlight their importance as determinants of either self-tolerance or T cell hyper-responsiveness which ultimately might be implicated in the creation of tolerogenic pathways in cancer or loss of immunological tolerance in autoimmunity. This review discusses how specific glycans (with a focus on N-linked glycans) act as regulators of T cell biology and their implications in disease.

Keywords: N-glycosylation, Glycans, T cells, immune response, Autoimmunity, self-tolerance

Received: 31 Jul 2018; Accepted: 08 Nov 2018.

Edited by:

Jasmeen S. Merzaban, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia

Reviewed by:

Yvette Van Kooyk, VU University Medical Center, Netherlands
Martin J. Richer, McGill University, Canada  

Copyright: © 2018 Pereira, Alves, Vicente, Campar, Silva, Padrão, Pinto, Fernandes, Dias and Pinho. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: DVM, PhD. Salomé S. Pinho, Institute of Molecular Pathology and Immunology, University of Porto, Porto, 4200-135, Portugal, salomep@ipatimup.pt