The concept of carbohydrate arrays was conceived in 1985 by Ten Feizi and co-workers (while at the MRC Clinical Research Centre, Northwick Park, Harrow): This was the development of a much needed, novel micro-method to immobilise oligosaccharides on surfaces to study their recognition by antibodies and other carbohydrate-recognizing proteins. This involved the release of oligosaccharides from glycoproteins and their conversion to ‘neoglycolipids’ (NGLs) by conjugation to a lipid molecule. Further information is available at Neoglycolipids: probes of oligosaccharide structure, antigenicity, and function (PubMed).
Particularly, when coupled with mass spectrometry, NGL technology proved to be a powerful means of assigning the epitopes of monoclonal antibodies directed at carbohydrate differentiation antigens, receptors for bacteria, and ligands of numerous carbohydrate recognising proteins of the innate immune system. By this means, the sulphated Lewisa (Lea) and Lex was discovered as novel ligands for E-selectin within the highly heterogeneous O-glycome of an epithelial mucin, and O-mannosyl glycans were found in abundance in the brain and as sole O-glycan carriers of carriers of HNK-1 antigen.
We established the neoglycolipid (NGL)-based oligosaccharide microarray system in 2002, the first to have been set up for sequence-defined oligosaccharides. Oligosaccharide microarrays have revolutionised the molecular dissection of carbohydrate-protein interactions, and with the increased awareness that oligosaccharides are involved in diverse molecular interactions in health and, directly or indirectly, in the majority of disease processes, the technology has served to attract numerous collaborative initiatives with groups in the UK and overseas.