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Carbohydrate Chain

What is a carbohydrate chain?

The term carbohydrate chain refers generally to a molecule formed of multiple monosaccharides such as glucose and fucose.
- Two conjoined glucose molecules are referred to as "glucose"


You may not have heard this term before, but a polymer generally refers to a macromolecule made up of a very large number of atoms connected via covalent bonds.
The term polymer is a broad concept referring to a "large molecule or aggregate" and means a "large molecule with a repeating structure consisting of monomers."


Carbohydrate chain nutrients made up only of a single sugar such as starch and cellulose are referred to as "homoplymers." Beta-glucan is also a homopolymer. It is a polysaccharide made up of a single sugar (glucose).


At present, meanwhile, much attention is being given to the importance of carbohydrate chains made up of chains of monosaccharides of various types from among the eight types of monosaccharide (glucose, galactose, fucose, etc.) rather than hompolymers, which are chains of monosaccharides of a single type.

This is called a glycoconjugate. These are biological substances classed as "heteropolymers."

Glycoconjugates have been found to be deeply involved in various processes such as growth, development, and reproduction and to be very important substances for our biological activities. Many people probably associate the phrase "biological information" first of all with DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). Whereas DNA is preserved in the nucleus of cells, carbohydrate chains are involved in a variety of functions such as by being expressed on the surface of the cell as membrane proteins and glycolipids, or addition of secreted protein.
These are so-called "site molecules."

The close-packed hair-like features growing out of the wall of the cell are

The photograph above shows a cross section of a blood vessel with the cells of the blood vessel greatly magnified.
The close-packed hair-like features growing out of the wall of the cell are "carbohydrate chains"
This is a famous photograph that amazed scientists around the world.

These antennae extending out like beards is "carbohydrate chains"
In recent years, they have been found to play an important role within the body.
Having completed DNA analysis, we are no embarking on the study of these carbohydrate chains as our next "hope."

Six billion cells and carbohydrate chains

The human body is made up of around six billion cells. Hundreds to hundreds of thousands of "carbohydrate chains" are present in these various cells. Carbohydrate chains consisting of the eight basic monosaccharides combined in various forms spread out like beards on the surface of various cells, and studies in recent years have found them to play a variety of roles in human functions.

Scientifically speaking, carbohydrate chains are a group of molecules consisting of various types of monosaccharide connected by glycosidic bonds.The number of bonded sugars varies from two to several tens of thousands or more, and chains of ten or fewer sugars are referred to as oligosaccharides.

Carbohydrate chains can bond to other molecules including proteins and lipids as well as other molecules to produce a variety of molecules. These glycoproteins and glycolipids fulfill very important physiological functions within the body.

Carbohydrate chains are a cell's antennae

Put in simple terms, "carbohydrate chain" play a very important role in our bodies by acting as a cell’s antennae. These carbohydrate chain antennae are used to exchange various kinds of information between cells.

If something goes wrong with these carbohydrate chain antennae, various problems are known to occur within the body.

Carbohydrate chains fulfill their roles as cell antennae through direct contact with each other.
The role of carbohydrate chains includes exchanging information between neighbouring cells, discovering viral infiltration, sensing toxins released by bacteria, transmitting information to immune cells, receiving information from antibodies, and receiving instructions from physiological substances such as hormones.

Carbohydrate chains could be termed a kind of "ID card."
ID cards containing information such as blood type, address, name, and job are very convenient for passing on information at a glance and removing security locks. Carbohydrate chains possess outstanding functionality in terms of enabling the transmission of information to a target cell in an instant, just like an ID card.

It has been found to be very important for a healthy life that these carbohydrate chains work properly.

Research into carbohydrate chains is making steady progress and rapid advances.

These carbohydrate chains are now at the center of attention of researchers from around the world.
"DNA," the first biological chain
"Proteins," the second biological chain
This means that "carbohydrate chains" are the third biological chain.

Mapping of the human genome (DNA) was completed in 2003.
Everyone expected that mapping of the genome would enable many of the physical problems of modern man to be resolved.

However, simply mapping genes left many problems still to be solved. Accordingly, many researchers set their sights on "carbohydrate chains" as a post-genome project and embarked on research.

As research started around the world, particularly in the United States, a public-private study of carbohydrate chains started in Japan in 2001 with 2.7 billion yen of money from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Japan is now the world leader in carbohydrate chain research.
Half of the carbohydrate chains elucidated so far have been elucidated by Japanese researchers.
As this research on carbohydrate chains continues in future, it is expected to produce breakthroughs in conditions for which the cause is not currently known or that are not currently treatable.

Furthermore, this is the age of the "carbohydrate chain."


Glyconutrition is a new approach to nutritional science developed from knowledge of carbohydrate chains.

Carbohydrate chains are made up of several types of sugar molecules connected in a chain. These chains are made up of units called "monosaccharides", sugar molecules.

Human carbohydrate chains are made up of eight types of monosaccharide.

Of these eight monosaccharides, glucose and galactose can be obtained from normal foods, but the other six are difficult to obtain from a modern diet.

When these monosaccharides are in short supply, it becomes difficult to produce the "carbohydrate chain" that are the cell's antennae normally. If something goes wrong with the antennae, communication between cells becomes problematic and the normal balance of various functions in the body is disrupted.

Based on the idea that proactive supplementation of the monosaccharides in short supply can maintain the normal state of carbohydrate chains, the new nutritional science of "glyconutrition" has been gaining attention, especially in the United States.

White blood cells

contrast photograph of a blood vessel and white blood cells

White blood cells are well known to be very important for the protection of health.

The contrast photograph of a blood vessel shown above shows how white blood cells are carried vigorously along in the blood.
The slow-moving, round, whitish cell in the picture. That is a white blood cell.
White blood cells flow slowly as the interior of the blood vessel comes into contact with the wall of the blood vessel.
This is how physiological information is received from cells in the blood vessel.

If there is something wrong with the body, a cascade of white blood cells that have received information from the surface of a cell passes through the blood vessel and appear in the body.
Macrophages are a type of white blood cell that are able to take in and process dead cells and foreign material such as bacteria and viruses that have invaded the body.
For this reason, they are known as the body's cleaners.

White blood cells that respond first to abnormalities within the body and rush to the scene of the problem. The relationship between carbohydrate chains and white blood cells is currently the focus of deep interest from researchers.

The brain and carbohydrate chains

"Neurons," nerve cells in the brain

Neurons project out axons with links that form a network for communications in the brain. Information is transmitted in "axons" connecting one neuron to another.

Cells called oligodendroglial cells surround these neuronal axons and work to increase signal transmission speed.

The leading role among the cells that make up the brain is played by the "neurons". These neurons are supported by three types of glial cells. These are the oligodendroglial cells, astroglial cells, and microglial cells.
Of these, the oligodendroglial cells are unable to function normally in the absence of carbohydrate chains.

Oligodendroglial cells wind tightly around neuronal axons and form an insulating myelin sheath, which increases the rate of information transmission.
Carbohydrate chain is known to play an important role in the formation of this myelin sheath.

Monosaccharides that make up carbohydrate chains and foods

The "monosaccharides" that make up carbohydrate chains are found in foods in large amounts. So what monosaccharide is found in what foods?


Bread, pasta, and similar foods are made from wheat flour.
The "starch" found in these staple foods, rice, and other foods consist of a long chain of "glucose" molecules. When starch is digested and broken down, glucose and the like are formed.

Beta-glucan is a polysaccharide consisting of a long chain of many glucose molecules.
* Glucose and other sugars are a source of calories, but beta-glucan is not.


"Lactose" is found in dairy products such as milk. Lactose is formed from a galactose molecule attached to a glucose molecule.
Quite a few people are missing the enzyme required to break this bond between galactose and glucose.
These are the kind of people who complain of stomach-aches after drinking milk.


Devil’s tongue, a food often eaten in Japan, is a good source of the monosaccharide mannose. The major component of devil’s tongue consists of a glucose molecule attached to a mannose molecule.
However, humans do not have the enzyme required to break down this compound and so hardly any can be absorbed.


When seaweed such as kelp is cut, a slimy substance oozes out.
That slimy substance is a long-chain polymer of fucose.
A substance formed by bonding a long chain polymer consisting of fucose followed by a sulfate group with a pigment called fucoxanthin was studied for a long time as fucoidan.

Type and number of carbohydrate chains

About 5000 different types of carbohydrate chains have been discovered and confirmed so far.
As research advances in the future, it is expected that more carbohydrate chains with a variety of bond structures and functions will be discovered, and that the total number of types of carbohydrate chain finally discovered may be as high as 20,000.

The feasibility of a carbohydrate chain cannot be determined.
It may be beyond the limits of human intelligence, but robust, serious research into sugar chains is ongoing.

The eight monosaccharides that make up carbohydrate chains

The terms carbohydrate chain nutrients refers to the eight monosaccharides that make up carbohydrate chains.

The eight basic monosaccharides that make up carbohydrate chains

Glucose,Galactose,Mannose,Fucose,Xylose,N-acetylglucosamine,N-acetylgalactosamine,N-acetylneuraminic acid (sialic acid)

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