Glycans, the carbohydrate chains of glycoproteins, proteoglycans, and glycolipids, represent a relatively unexploited area for drug development compared with other macromolecules. This review describes the major classes of glycans synthesized by animal cells, their mode of assembly, and available inhibitors for blocking their biosynthesis and function. Many of these agents have proven useful for studying the biological activities of glycans in isolated cells, during embryological development, and in physiology. Some are being used to develop drugs for treating metabolic disorders, cancer, and infection, suggesting that glycans are excellent targets for future drug development.
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