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Mucosal pathogens recognize glycoconjugate receptors at the site of infection, and attachment is an essential first step in disease pathogenesis. Inhibition of attachment may prevent disease, and several approaches have been explored. This review discusses the prevention of bacterial attachment and disease by agents that modify the glycosylation of cell surface glycoconjugates. Glycosylation inhibitors were tested in the urinary tract infection model, where P-fimbriated Escherichia coli rely on glycosphingolipid receptors for attachment and tissue attack. N-butyldeoxynojirimycin blocked the expression of glucosylceramide-derived glycosphingolipids and attachment was reduced. Bacterial persistence in the kidneys was impaired and the inflammatory response was abrogated. N-butyldeoxynojirimycin was inactive against strains which failed to engage these receptors, including type 1 fimbriated or nonadhesive strains. In vivo attachment has been successfully prevented by soluble receptor analogues, but there is little clinical experience of such inhibitors. Large-scale synthesis of complex carbohydrates, which could be used as attachment inhibitors, remains a technical challenge. Antibodies to bacterial lectins involved in attachment may be efficient inhibitors, and fimbrial vaccines have been developed. Glycosylation inhibitors have been shown to be safe and efficient in patients with lipid storage disease and might therefore be tested in urinary tract infection. This approach differs from current therapies, including antibiotics, in that it targets the pathogens which recognize these receptors.

Original publication




Journal article


FEMS Microbiol Lett

Publication Date





1 - 8


1-Deoxynojirimycin, Animals, Bacterial Adhesion, Escherichia coli Infections, Glycosphingolipids, Humans, Immunity, Innate, Lysosomal Storage Diseases, Receptors, Cell Surface, Urinary Tract Infections