Integration of systems glycobiology with bioinformatics toolboxes, glycoinformatics resources, and glycoproteomics data

Liu G, Neelamegham S. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Syst Biol Med. 2015 Jul-Aug;7(4):163-81. doi: 10.1002/wsbm.1296. Review. PMID: 25871730

The glycome constitutes the entire complement of free carbohydrates and glycoconjugates expressed on whole cells or tissues. ‘Systems Glycobiology’ is an emerging discipline that aims to quantitatively describe and analyse the glycome. Here, instead of developing a detailed understanding of single biochemical processes, a combination of computational and experimental tools are used to seek an integrated or ‘systems-level’ view. This can explain how multiple biochemical reactions and transport processes interact with each other to control glycome biosynthesis and function. Computational methods in this field commonly build in silico reaction network models to describe experimental data derived from structural studies that measure cell-surface glycan distribution. While considerable progress has been made, several challenges remain due to the complex and heterogeneous nature of this post-translational modification. First, for the in silico models to be standardized and shared among laboratories, it is necessary to integrate glycan structure information and glycosylation-related enzyme definitions into the mathematical models. Second, as glycoinformatics resources grow, it would be attractive to utilize ‘Big Data’ stored in these repositories for model construction and validation. Third, while the technology for profiling the glycome at the whole-cell level has been standardized, there is a need to integrate mass spectrometry derived site-specific glycosylation data into the models. The current review discusses progress that is being made to resolve the above bottlenecks. The focus is on how computational models can bridge the gap between ‘data’ generated in wet-laboratory studies with ‘knowledge’ that can enhance our understanding of the glycome.