Sugars communicate through water: Oriented glycans induce water structuring

Rosa M. Espinosa-Marzal, Giacomo Fontani, Frieder B. Reusch, Marcella Roba, Nicholas D. Spencer, Rowena Crockett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cells are coated with a glycocalyx - a layer of carbohydrate-containing biomolecules, such as glycoproteins. Although the structure and orientation of the cell-surface glycans are frequently regarded as being random, we have found, using α-1-acid glycoprotein and antitrypsin as model systems for surface glycans, that this is not the case. A glycoprotein monolayer was adsorbed onto hydrophilic and hydrophobic substrates. Surface-force measurements revealed that the orientation of the glycans with respect to the aqueous solution has a profound effect on the structure of vicinal water. The glycan antennae of the surface-adsorbed glycoproteins apparently impose an ordering on the water, resulting in a strong repulsive force over some tens of nanometers with superposed film-thickness transitions ranging from ≈0.7 to 1.8 nm. When the glycan orientation is modified by chemical means, this long-range repulsion disappears. These results may provide an explanation as to why the multiantennary structure is ubiquitous in glycoproteins. Although direct, specific interactions between glycans and other biomolecules are essential for their functionality, these results indicate that glycans' long-range structuring of water may also influence their ability to interact with biomolecules in their vicinity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2686-2694
Number of pages9
JournalBiophysical journal
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 18 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics


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