Cracking the breast cancer glyco-code through glycan-lectin interactions: Targeting immunosuppressive macrophages

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The immune microenvironment of breast cancer (BC) is composed by high macrophage infiltrates, correlated with the most aggressive subtypes. Tumour-associated macrophages (TAM) within the BC microenvironment are key regulators of immune suppression and BC progression. Nevertheless, several key questions regarding TAM polarisation by BC are still not fully understood. Recently, the modulation of the immune microenvironment has been described via the recognition of abnormal glycosylation patterns at BC cell surface. These patterns rise as a resource to identify potential targets on TAM in the BC context, leading to the development of novel immunotherapies. Herein, we will summarize recent studies describing advances in identifying altered glycan structures in BC cells. We will focus on BC-specific glycosylation patterns known to modulate the phenotype and function of macrophages recruited to the tumour site, such as structures with sialylated or N-acetylgalactosamine epitopes. Moreover, the lectins present at the surface of macrophages reported to bind to such antigens, inducing tumour-prone TAM phenotypes, will also be highlighted. Finally, we will discuss and give our view on the potential and current challenges of targeting these glycan-lectin interactions to reshape the immunosuppressive landscape of BC.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1972
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2021


  • Aberrant glycosylation
  • Breast cancer
  • Glycan-lectin interactions
  • Immunotherapy
  • Tumour microenvironment
  • Tumour-associated macrophages


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