Glycomic and glycoproteomic analyses involve the characterization of oligosaccharides (glycans) conjugated to proteins. Glycans are produced through a complicated nontemplate driven process involving the competition of enzymes that extend the nascent chain. The large diversity of structures, the variations in polarity of the individual saccharide residues, and the poor ionization efficiencies of glycans all conspire to make the analysis arguably much more difficult than any other biopolymer. Furthermore, the large number of glycoforms associated with a specific protein site makes it more difficult to characterize than any post-translational modification. Nonetheless, there have been significant progress, and advanced separation and mass spectrometry methods have been at its center and the main reason for the progress. While glycomic and glycoproteomic analyses are still typically available only through highly specialized laboratories, new software and workflow is making it more accessible. This review focuses on the role of mass spectrometry and separation methods in advancing glycomic and glycoproteomic analyses. It describes the current state of the field and progress toward making it more available to the larger scientific community.
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