Chemical Reporters for Bacterial Glycans: Development and Applications

Nicholas Banahene, Herbert W. Kavunja, Benjamin M. Swarts

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Bacteria possess an extraordinary repertoire of cell envelope glycans that have critical physiological functions. Pathogenic bacteria have glycans that are essential for growth and virulence but are absent from humans, making them high-priority targets for antibiotic, vaccine, and diagnostic development. The advent of metabolic labeling with bioorthogonal chemical reporters and small-molecule fluorescent reporters has enabled the investigation and targeting of specific bacterial glycans in their native environments. These tools have opened the door to imaging glycan dynamics, assaying and inhibiting glycan biosynthesis, profiling glycoproteins and glycan-binding proteins, and targeting pathogens with diagnostic and therapeutic payload. These capabilities have been wielded in diverse commensal and pathogenic Gram-positive, Gram-negative, and mycobacterial species-including within live host organisms. Here, we review the development and applications of chemical reporters for bacterial glycans, including peptidoglycan, lipopolysaccharide, glycoproteins, teichoic acids, and capsular polysaccharides, as well as mycobacterial glycans, including trehalose glycolipids and arabinan-containing glycoconjugates. We cover in detail how bacteria-targeting chemical reporters are designed, synthesized, and evaluated, how they operate from a mechanistic standpoint, and how this information informs their judicious and innovative application. We also provide a perspective on the current state and future directions of the field, underscoring the need for interdisciplinary teams to create novel tools and extend existing tools to support fundamental and translational research on bacterial glycans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3336-3413
Number of pages78
JournalChemical Reviews
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 9 2022


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