A Chemical Biology Solution to Problems with Studying Biologically Important but Unstable 9-O-Acetyl Sialic Acids

Zahra Khedri, An Xiao, Hai Yu, Corinna Susanne Landig, Wanqing Li, Sandra Diaz, Brian R. Wasik, Colin R. Parrish, Lee Ping Wang, Ajit Varki, Xi Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


9-O-Acetylation is a common natural modification on sialic acids (Sias) that terminate many vertebrate glycan chains. This ester group has striking effects on many biological phenomena, including microbe-host interactions, complement action, regulation of immune responses, sialidase action, cellular apoptosis, and tumor immunology. Despite such findings, 9-O-acetyl sialoglycoconjugates have remained largely understudied, primarily because of marked lability of the 9-O-acetyl group to even small pH variations and/or the action of mammalian or microbial esterases. Our current studies involving 9-O-acetylated sialoglycans on glycan microarrays revealed that even the most careful precautions cannot ensure complete stability of the 9-O-acetyl group. We now demonstrate a simple chemical biology solution to many of these problems by substituting the oxygen atom in the ester with a nitrogen atom, resulting in sialic acids with a chemically and biologically stable 9-N-acetyl group. We present an efficient one-pot multienzyme method to synthesize a sialoglycan containing 9-acetamido-9-deoxy-N-acetylneuraminic acid (Neu5Ac9NAc) and compare it to the one with naturally occurring 9-O-acetyl-N-acetylneuraminic acid (Neu5,9Ac2). Conformational resemblance of the two molecules was confirmed by computational molecular dynamics simulations. Microarray studies showed that the Neu5Ac9NAc-sialoglycan is a ligand for viruses naturally recognizing Neu5,9Ac2, with a similar affinity but with much improved stability in handling and study. Feeding of Neu5Ac9NAc or Neu5,9Ac2 to mammalian cells resulted in comparable incorporation and surface expression as well as binding to 9-O-acetyl-Sia-specific viruses. However, cells fed with Neu5Ac9NAc remained resistant to viral esterases and showed a slower turnover. This simple approach opens numerous research opportunities that have heretofore proved intractable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)214-224
Number of pages11
JournalACS Chemical Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 20 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine


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