Molecular Functions of Glycoconjugates in Autophagy

Fahie K, Zachara NE. J Mol Biol. 2016 Aug 14;428(16):3305-24. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2016.06.011. Review. PMID: 27345664

Glycoconjugates, glycans, carbohydrates, and sugars: these terms encompass a class of biomolecules that are diverse in both form and function ranging from free oligosaccharides, glycoproteins, and proteoglycans, to glycolipids that make up a complex glycan code that impacts normal physiology and disease. Recent data suggest that one mechanism by which glycoconjugates impact physiology is through the regulation of the process of autophagy. Autophagy is a degradative pathway necessary for differentiation, organism development, and the maintenance of cell and tissue homeostasis. In this review, we will highlight what is known about the regulation of autophagy by glycoconjugates focusing on signaling mechanisms from the extracellular surface and the regulatory roles of intracellular glycans. Glycan signaling from the extracellular matrix converges on “master” regulators of autophagy including AMPK and mTORC1, thus impacting their localization, activity, and/or expression. Within the intracellular milieu, gangliosides are constituents of the autophagosome membrane, a subset of proteins composing the autophagic machinery are regulated by glycosylation, and oligosaccharide exposure in the cytosol triggers an autophagic response. The examples discussed provide some mechanistic insights into glycan regulation of autophagy and reveal areas for future investigation.