Human erythrocyte surface fucose expression increases with age and hyperglycemia: [version 1; peer review: awaiting peer review]

Huan Cao* (Corresponding Author), Ananyo Bagchi, Dimitrios Tampakis, Irina Laidvee, Maria Williams, Beverley Minter, Sonja Wright, Aristotelis Antonopoulos, Stuart M Haslam, Robert N Barker, Mark Vickers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Reactive oxygen species and other free radicals, together with glucose and its metabolites are believed to play important roles in the aging process. The carbohydrate components of glycosylated proteins are important in mediating cell-cell interactions and a role has been suggested for them in the aging process. Erythrocytes are critical cells in the human body, heavily glycosylated and relatively easily available and so are good candidates to yield insights into how patterns of glycosylation change with age and disease. It has been claimed, based on a periodic acid Schiff assay, that human aging is associated with a decline of erythrocyte surface sialic acids. Plant lectins allow for more specific assays for glycans, including determining the linkage of sialic acids and analysis of single cells by flow cytometry.
Methods: Plant lectins, including Maackia amurensis lectin II (MAL), binding to α-2,3 linked sialic acids and Sambucus nigra (SNA), α-2,6 sialic acids, were used in flow cytometry and western blot of erythrocyte surface membrane. N-glycomics mass spectrometry determines glycan structures. Donors varying in age and hyperglycemia, as indicated by HbA1c were analysed.
Results: Erythrocyte surface sialic acids have no significant associations with donor age. A combination of storage and cellular aging produces a specific loss of α-2,6 sialic acids. By contrast, erythrocyte surface terminal fucoses increase significantly with donor age. In order to determine which aspects of aging are important in determining this change, we investigated whether this novel human aging biomarker is associated with higher plasma glucose values, assessed by glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) and reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation. Fucose levels were associated with HbA1c levels, but not ROS generation.
Conclusion: Our study identifies novel glycan-based biomarkers for human aging and disease. The simplicity of lectin-based assays provide an attractive cellular tool to study aging and disease processes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number28
Number of pages14
JournalWellcome open research
Publication statusPublished - 9 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Grant information: This work was supported by the Wellcome Trust [094847,; to R.N.B, L.P.E, M.A.V].

Underlying data
Open Science Framework: Human erythrocyte surface fucose expression increases with age and hyperglycemia.


  • fucose
  • hyperglycaemia
  • aging
  • erythrocyte
  • lectins


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