The role of a2,3- and a2,6-sialylation

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Glycans decorating cell surface and secreted proteins and lipids occupy the junction where critical host–host and host-pathogen interactions occur. In spite of the wide acceptance that glycans are centrally implicated in immunity, exactly how glycans and their variety and variability contribute to the overall immune response remains poorly defined. Glycans, frequently terminated by sialic acid residues, may be modified by external factors such as pathogens or upon specific physiological cellular events. The terminal, privileged positions of sialic acid-modified structures makes them key, fundamental determinants for a number of immune receptors with known involvement in cellular adhesiveness and cell trafficking, such as Selectins and Siglecs, with known relevant immune functions. At the time this thesis was initiated, it was established that sialic acids expressed at cell surface could modulate important mechanisms of the adaptive immune responses. Given the key role of dendritic cells (DCs) in the transition from innate to the adaptive immune responses, we anticipated that sialic acids could also modulate important mechanisms of human DCs. DCs have a relevant role in antigen screening and uptake, migration to lymph nodes and antigen presentation to lymphocytes, ultimately triggering the adaptive immune response. Therefore, our primary hypothesis was that sialic acids may modulate DC functions, such as antigen uptake, maturation, homing to lymph nodes and antigen presentation to T cells. To test this hypothesis, we divided our work in four parts. 1) Surface sialylated glycans expressed during differentiation from human monocytes to DCs (moDCs) were analyzed. Our data showed that α2,3-sialylated O-glycans and α2,6- and α2,3-sialylated N-glycans expression increased during moDC differentiation. Three main sialyltransferases (STs) are committed with this new glycan configuration: ST6Gal- 1 correlates with the increased expression of α2,6-sialylated N-glycans; ST3Gal-1 32 contributes for the α2,3-sialylation of O-glycans, especially T antigens; and ST3Gal-4 may contribute for the increased α2,3-sialylated N-glycans. Upon moDC maturation, ST6Gal-1 and ST3Gal-4 are downregulated and ST3Gal-1 is altered in a stimulus dependent manner. 2) We subsequently analyzed the consequences of the modulation of cell surface sialic acids in DC functions. We observed that removing surface sialic acid by sialidase significantly decreased the capacity of moDCs to micropinocytose and receptormediated endocytose. In contrast, treatment with a sialidase significantly improved the capacity of moDCs to phagocytose Escherichia coli. The improved phagocytosis mechanism required E. coli sialic acids, indicating a mechanism of host–pathogen interaction dependent on sialic acid moieties. Sialidase-treated moDCs have increased expression of MHC and co-stimulatory molecules, suggesting a more mature phenotype. Experiments using mouse bone marrow-derived DCs (BMDCs) from ST3Gal-1-/- and ST6Gal-1-/- strains indicated that endocytosis and maturation are influenced by changes in either α2,3 or α2,6-sialylated glycans. The analysis of α2,6-sialylated, N-glycosylated proteins, strongly suggested the potential involvement of β2 integrins, underlying these mechanisms. 3) The effect of α2,6-sialylation in DC homing to lymph nodes was also analyzed. We observed that BMDCs deficient for ST6Gal-1 have an almost 50% reduction in DC homing, as assayed by in situ inflammation and adoptive transfer studies. A reduction in DC homing was also observed when wild type BMDCs were transferred into ST6Gal-1-/- recipient mice. Further investigations are necessary to identify the molecules involved in this process. 4) Finally, we also analyzed the impact of sialylation on DCs ability to prime T cells. Sialidase-treated moDCs show increased gene expression of IL-12, TNF-α, IL-6 and IL- 10 cytokines, and activation of the transcription factor nuclear factor-κB. Sialidase33 treated DCs induced a higher proliferative response of T cells with concomitant higher expression of interferon-γ, suggesting that the clearance of cell surface sialic acids contributes to the development of a T helper type 1 proinflammatory response. Together, our data strongly support sialic acid’s relevance in DC immune functions. Alterations of cell surface sialic acid content can alter the endocytosis/phagocytosis, maturation, migration/homing and the ability for T cell priming in human DCs. Moreover, sialic acid linkages created by ST6Gal-1 and ST3Gal-1 are functionally relevant. The engineering of cell surface sialylation, mediated by individual sialidases or sialyltransferases is a likely possibility to fine tune DC phagocytosis and immunological potency, with particular significance to DC-based therapies.
Original languageEnglish
  • Videira, Paula Alexandra, Supervisor
  • Lau, Joseph Tien Yuen, Supervisor, External person
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2016


  • Glicanos sialilados de superfície
  • Imunidade
  • Células dentríticas
  • Células T
  • Ácido siálico
  • Terapia baseada em CDs
  • Surface sialylated glycans
  • Immunity
  • Dentritic cells
  • T cells
  • α2,6-sialylation
  • DCs based therapy


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