Structure of Sialic Acid with Principal Investigators. Image: Martina Mühlenhoff

DFG Research Unit FOR 2953

Sialic Acid as Regulator in Development and Immunity

The overall goal of the DFG-Research Unit “Sialic Acid as Regulator in Development and Immunity” is to decipher fundamental sialoglycan functions at organismal, cellular, and molecular levels. The central concept of to this Research Unit is to combine analysis of developmental and immunological aspects of sialobiology in order to gain insight into their intricate interplay. Because of their complexity, glycans have often been overlooked, but it became evident that they play critical roles in numerous biological and disease processes. We will focus on glycans that are capped by sialic acids, an abundant glycan class characterized by a huge structural diversity. Sialic acids are key components in many cellular communication processes and serve as critical determinant for the recognition of self. Thus, changes in the sialylation pattern translate into alterations with potential aberrancies in self-recognition, tissue homeostasis and immunological tolerance. Due to the structural complexity of sialoglycans and their central role in both developmental and immunological processes, interdisciplinary approaches are mandatory for a full understanding of the essential role of sialoglycans. Therefore, the Research Unit combines complementary expertise from developmental biology, immunology, neurobiology, structural biology, biochemistry, and stem cell glycomics, to efficiently tackle key questions of sialobiology. A unique set of sialoglycan-specific mouse models, glyco-tools, and cutting-edge analytical methodologies will allow us to uncover how the multi-layered complexity of the sialome translates into biological functions. Our strategy will foster and exploit integrated approaches to catalyze advances in our understanding of processes at the cross-road of development and immunity such as (i) induction and maintenance of immunological tolerance, e.g. at the fetal-maternal interface, (ii) immune cell development, and (iii) long-term maintenance of tissue homeostasis. We expect that our research program will provide novel insight into sialoglycan functions that will help to better understand the impact of glycans in the development of pregnancy complications as well as autoimmune and age-related inflammatory diseases.