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Sialylation: an Avenue to Target Cancer Cells

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Pathology & Oncology Research


Tumorigenesis and metastasis are frequently associated with altered structure and expression of oligosaccharides on cell surface glycoproteins and glycolipids. The expression of sialylated glycoconjugates has been shown to change during development, differentiation, disease and oncogenic transformation. Abnormal sialylation in cancer cell is a distinctive feature associated with malignant properties including invasiveness and metastatic potential. The alterations in sialylation is accompanied by changes in sialic acid, sialidase activity, sialyltransferase (ST) activity or sialoproteins. The present review summarizes the reports on alterations of sialic acid, linkage specific STs and sialoproteins, sialidase activity together with different subtypes of ST and sialidases mRNA expressions in various cancers like lung, breast, oral, cervical, ovarian, pancreatic etc. Sialic acids are widely distributed in nature as terminal sugars of oligosaccharides attached to proteins or lipids. The increase shedding of sialic acid observed in malignant tumors may be due to different types of sialidases. The amount of sialic acid is governed by levels of sialidases and STs. Various types of STs are also involved in formation of different types sialylated tumor associated carbohydrate antigens which plays important role in metastasis. The alterations associated with sialylation aids in early diagnosis, prognosis and post treatment monitoring in various cancers. Recently newer drugs targeting different interplays of sialylation have been developed, which might have profound effect in inhibiting sialylation and thus cancer metastasis and infiltration.

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Prostate specific antigen


Sialyl lewis




Tumor associated carbohydrate antigen


Total sialic acid


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Correspondence to Prabhudas S. Patel.

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Vajaria, B.N., Patel, K.R., Begum, R. et al. Sialylation: an Avenue to Target Cancer Cells. Pathol. Oncol. Res. 22, 443–447 (2016).

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