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Sweet success in targeting sugar molecules to cells in living animals

Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers have successfully targeted unnatural sugar molecules with chemically unique functional groups onto the surfaces of cells in living animals without altering the animals' physiology.

The achievement is a significant advance in the promising new field of metabolic engineering because it provides a new tool with which researchers can label specific cells in whole animals so that they can differentiate one cell from another.

The researchers said the new approach to marking cell-surface sugars could lead to improved understanding of fundamental cellular processes where sugars are known to play an important role, such as in interaction with pathogens, and in mediating inflammation and disease. The research may also make it possible to target the delivery of chemical agents to specific cell types in living organisms more precisely.

Led by Howard Hughes Medical Institute Medical Institute investigator Carolyn R. Bertozziat the University of California, Berkeley, the researchers published their findings in the August 19, 2004, issue of the journal Nature.

"The method introduced by Bertozzi and colleagues is remarkable as a chemical process," wrote David A. Tirrell of the California Institute of Technology in an accompanying News and Views article in Nature. "The fact that specific chemical transformations can now be accomplished with spatial and temporal control in live animals is a major step forward for chemistry."

Glycosylation is the addition of carbohydrate (sugar) groups to a molecule. It has long been known that the glycosylation patterns of sugar molecules on cell surfaces can influence their interaction with other cells. "Glycobiologists have known that cancer cells, for example, exhibit changes in glycosylation patterns when compared with their normal healthy tissue counterparts," said Bertozzi.
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Contact: Jim Keeley
keeleyj@hhmi.org
301-215-8858
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
18-Aug-2004


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