Structure of Glycoproteins and Their Oligosaccharide Units

  • Rosalind Kornfeld
  • Stuart Kornfeld


The presence of oligosaccharide chains covalently attached to the peptide backbone is the feature that distinguishes glycoproteins from other proteins and accounts for some of their characteristic physical and chemical properties. Glycoproteins occur in fungi, green plants, viruses, bacteria, and in higher animal cells where they serve a variety of functions. Connective tissue glycoproteins, such as the collagens and proteoglycans of various animal species, are structural elements as are the cell wall glycoproteins of yeasts and green plants. The submaxillary mucins and the glycoproteins in the mucous secretions of the gastrointestinal tract, which consist of numerous oligosaccharide chains attached at closely spaced intervals to a peptide backbone, serve as lubricants and protective agents. The body fluids of vertebrates are rich in glycoproteins secreted from various glands and organs. Constituents of blood plasma which are glycoproteins include the transport proteins transferrin, ceruloplasmin, and transcobalamin I as well as the immunoglobulins, all the known clotting factors, and many of the components of complement. Follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, and thyroid-stimulating hormone (secreted by the pituitary) and chorionic gonadotropin are all glycoproteins as are the enzymes ribonuclease and deoxyribonuclease (secreted by the pancreas) and α-amylase (secreted by the salivary glands). Fungi secrete a number of glycoprotein enzymes, for example, Taka-amylase and invertase. Another group of glycoproteins are those which occur as integral components of cell membranes in a variety of species. Enveloped viruses contain surface glycoproteins that are involved in the attachment of the virus to its host, and in eukaryotic cells the histocompatibility antigens are membrane glycoproteins. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that cell surface glycoproteins are involved in a number of physiologically important functions such as cell-cell interaction, adhesion of cells to substratum, and migration of cells to particular organs, for example, the “homing” of lymphocytes to the spleen and the metastasis of tumor cells to preferred sites.


Sialic Acid Sialic Acid Residue Mannose Residue Oligosaccharide Chain Vesicular Stomatitis Virus Glycoprotein 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rosalind Kornfeld
    • 1
  • Stuart Kornfeld
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of MedicineWashington University School of MedicineSt. LouisUSA

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