Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the most prevalent cancers worldwide. Delineating biological markers (biomarkers) for early detection, when treatment is most effective, is key to prevention and long-term survival of patients. Development of reliable biomarkers requires an increased understanding of the CRC biology and the underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms of the disease.
With recent advances in new technologies and approaches, tremendous efforts have been put in proteomics and genomics fields to deliver detailed analysis of the two major biomolecules, genes and proteins, to gain a more complete understanding of cellular systems at both genomic and proteomic levels, allowing a mechanistic understanding of the human diseases, including cancer, and opening avenues for identification of novel gene and protein based prognostic and therapeutic markers. Although the importance of glycosylation in modulating protein function has long been appreciated, glycan analysis has been complicated by the diversity of the glycan structures and the large number of potential glycosylation combinations. Driven by recent technological advances, LC-MS/MS based glycomics is gaining momentum in cancer research and holds considerable potential to deliver new glycan-based markers.
In our laboratory, we investigated alterations in N-glycosylation associated with CRC malignancy in a panel of CRC cell lines and CRC patient tissues. In an initial study, LC-MS/MS-based N-glycomics were utilized to map the N-glycome landscape associated with a panel of CRC cell lines (LIM1215, LIM1899, and LIM2405). These studies were subsequently extended to paired tumor and nontumorigenic CRC tissues to validate the findings in the cell line.
Our studies in both CRC cell lines and tissues identified a strong representation of high mannose and α2,6-linked sialylated complex N-glycans, which corroborate findings from previous studies in CRC and other cancers. In addition, certain unique glycan determinants such as bisecting β1,4-GlcNAcylation and α2,3-sialylation, identified in the metastatic (LIM1215) and aggressive (LIM2405) CRC cell lines, respectively, were shown to be associated with epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) expression status.
In this Account, we will describe the mass spectrometry based N-glycomics approach utilized in our laboratory to accurately profile the cell- and tissue-specific N-glycomes associated with CRC. We will highlight altered N-glycosylation observed by our studies, consistent with findings from other cancer studies, and discuss how the observed alterations can provide insights into CRC pathogenesis, opening new avenues to identify novel disease-associated glycan markers.