Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences

, Volume 72, Issue 7, pp 1231–1248 | Cite as

Cancer intelligence acquired (CIA): tumor glycosylation and sialylation codes dismantling antitumor defense

  • Kayluz Frias Boligan
  • Circe Mesa
  • Luis Enrique Fernandez
  • Stephan von GuntenEmail author


Aberrant glycosylation is a key feature of malignant transformation and reflects epigenetic and genetic anomalies among the multitude of molecules involved in glycan biosynthesis. Although glycan biosynthesis is not template bound, altered tumor glycosylation is not random, but associated with common glycosylation patterns. Evidence suggests that acquisition of distinct glycosylation patterns evolves from a ‘microevolutionary’ process conferring advantages in terms of tumor growth, tumor dissemination, and immune escape. Such glycosylation modifications also involve xeno- and hypersialylation. Xeno-autoantigens such as Neu5Gc-gangliosides provide potential targets for immunotherapy. Hypersialylation may display ‘enhanced self’ to escape immunosurveillance and involves several not mutually exclusive inhibitory pathways that all rely on protein–glycan interactions. A better understanding of tumor ‘glycan codes’ as deciphered by lectins, such as siglecs, selectins, C-type lectins and galectins, may lead to novel treatment strategies, not only in cancer, but also in autoimmune disease or transplantation.


Xeno-autosialylation Cancer glycosylation Cancer immunoediting Sialoglycans Altered branching Tumor immunosuppression 



Core 2 β1,6-N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase


CEA-related cell adhesion molecule-1


C-type lectin receptors


Carbohydrate-recognition domains


Diastrophic dysplasia sulfate transporter




Immunoreceptor tyrosine-based inhibition motif


Loss of heterozygosity


Mannosyl (beta-1,4-)-glycoprotein beta-1,4-N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase


Mannosyl (alpha-1,6-)-glycoprotein beta-1,6-N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase


MHC class I-related chain A


N-Glycolyl GM3 ganglioside


N-Acetyl GM3 ganglioside


Non-small cell lung cancer


Polypeptide N-acetylgalactosyl transferase


P-selectin glycoprotein ligand-1


Self-associated molecular patterns


Sialic acid-binding immunoglobulin-like lectin


Sialyl-T antigen

ST6Gal 1

Beta-galactoside α-2,6-sialyltransferase 1


Sialyl-Tn antigen




Tumor-associated carbohydrate antigen


Very small-sized proteoliposomes



Research by SVG is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grant No. 310030_135734), the Bulgarian-Swiss Research Program (BSRP) No. IZEBZO_142967, Swiss Cancer Research (KFS-3248-08-2013) and CSL Behring AG, Bern, Switzerland. The authors thank Aldona von Gunten for full illustration of Fig. 3 and assistance with Fig. 2.


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kayluz Frias Boligan
    • 1
  • Circe Mesa
    • 2
  • Luis Enrique Fernandez
    • 3
  • Stephan von Gunten
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute of PharmacologyUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.Immunobiology DivisionCenter of Molecular ImmunologyHavanaCuba
  3. 3.Innovation DivisionCenter of Molecular ImmunologyHavanaCuba

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