Metabolic Glycoengineering of Sialic Acid Using N-acyl-modified Mannosamines

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Sialic acid (Sia) is a highly important constituent of glycoconjugates, such as N- and O-glycans or glycolipids. Due to its position at the non-reducing termini of oligo- and polysaccharides, as well as its unique chemical characteristics, sialic acid is involved in a multitude of different receptor-ligand interactions. By modifying the expression of sialic acid on the cell surface, sialic acid-dependent interactions will consequently be influenced. This can be helpful to investigate sialic acid-dependent interactions and has the potential to influence certain diseases in a beneficial way. Via metabolic glycoengineering (MGE), the expression of sialic acid on the cell surface can be modulated. Herein, cells, tissues, or even entire animals are treated with C2-modified derivatives of N-acetylmannosamine (ManNAc). These amino sugars act as sialic acid precursor molecules and therefore are metabolized to the corresponding sialic acid species and expressed on glycoconjugates. Applying this method produces intriguing effects on various biological processes. For example, it can drastically reduce the expression of polysialic acid (polySia) in treated neuronal cells and thus affects neuronal growth and differentiation. Here, we show the chemical synthesis of two of the most common C2-modified N-acylmannosamine derivatives, N-propionylmannosamine (ManNProp) as well as N-butanoylmannosamine (ManNBut), and further show how these non-natural amino sugars can be applied in cell culture experiments. The expression of modified sialic acid species is quantified by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and further analyzed via mass spectrometry. The effects on polysialic acid expression are elucidated via Western blot using a commercially available polysialic acid antibody.