J Inherit Metab Dis 2016 Mar 21;39(2):173-88. Epub 2015 Dec 21.
Division of Medical Genetics, Department of Pediatrics, Université de Montréal and CHU Sainte-Justine, 3175 Côte Sainte-Catherine, Montreal, QC, H3T 1C5, Canada.
Glycosaminoglycans (GAG) are long, unbranched heteropolymers with repeating disaccharide units that make up the carbohydrate moiety of proteoglycans. Six distinct classes of GAGs are recognized. Their synthesis follows one of three biosynthetic pathways, depending on the type of oligosaccharide linker they contain. Chondroitin sulfate, dermatan sulfate, heparan sulfate, and heparin sulfate contain a common tetrasaccharide linker that is O-linked to specific serine residues in core proteins. Keratan sulfate can contain three different linkers, either N-linked to asparagine or O-linked to serine/threonine residues in core proteins. Finally, hyaluronic acid does not contain a linker and is not covalently attached to a core protein. Most inborn errors of GAG biosynthesis are reported in small numbers of patients. To date, in 20 diseases, convincing evidence for pathogenicity has been presented for mutations in a total of 16 genes encoding glycosyltransferases, sulfotransferases, epimerases or transporters. GAG synthesis defects should be suspected in patients with a combination of characteristic clinical features in more than one connective tissue compartment: bone and cartilage (short long bones with or without scoliosis), ligaments (joint laxity/dislocations), and subepithelial (skin, sclerae). Some produce distinct clinical syndromes. The commonest laboratory tests used for this group of diseases are analysis of GAGs, enzyme assays, and molecular testing. In principle, GAG analysis has potential as a general first-line diagnostic test for GAG biosynthesis disorders.