We often experience difficulties in identifying the accurate shape of dynamic and fluctuating objects. This is especially the case in the nanoscale world of biomolecules. The research group lead by Professor Koichi Kato of the Institute for Molecular Science, National Institutes of Natural Sciences, has developed a methodology for quantitatively describing the dynamic behaviors of complicated sugar chains in solution at atomic resolution by combining a sophisticated NMR spectroscopic approach with an ingenious molecular dynamics simulation technique. This study was published online on September 4, 2014 in Angewandte Chemie International Edition, a scientific journal that is published on behalf of the German Chemical Society. The sugar chains are flexible accessories decorating the surface of proteins. These variable accessories actually mediate protein-protein communication and even determine the fates of the protein. In other words, the sugar chains serve as transformable "code" that governs the protein's action in our body. For example, it has been revealed that particular sugar chains modifying lipids on cell surfaces offer acceptor sites for viral infections and trigger conformational changes of proteins involved in neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer's disease. Hence, decoding the sugar codes is desired not only for better understanding the molecular mechanisms behind a variety of biological processes, but also for designing new drugs targeting these processes. However, conformational characterization of the sugar chains has been hampered by their dynamic properties. Many experimentalists and theorists have taken on the challenge to solve this problem.
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