Table of Contents
ISRN Microbiology
Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 816713, 26 pages
Review Article

Unified Theory of Bacterial Sialometabolism: How and Why Bacteria Metabolize Host Sialic Acids

Laboratory of Sialobiology, Department of Pathobiology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61802, USA

Received 3 September 2012; Accepted 27 September 2012

Academic Editors: S. H. Flint and J. Ruiz-Herrera

Copyright © 2013 Eric R. Vimr. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Sialic acids are structurally diverse nine-carbon ketosugars found mostly in humans and other animals as the terminal units on carbohydrate chains linked to proteins or lipids. The sialic acids function in cell-cell and cell-molecule interactions necessary for organismic development and homeostasis. They not only pose a barrier to microorganisms inhabiting or invading an animal mucosal surface, but also present a source of potential carbon, nitrogen, and cell wall metabolites necessary for bacterial colonization, persistence, growth, and, occasionally, disease. The explosion of microbial genomic sequencing projects reveals remarkable diversity in bacterial sialic acid metabolic potential. How bacteria exploit host sialic acids includes a surprisingly complex array of metabolic and regulatory capabilities that is just now entering a mature research stage. This paper attempts to describe the variety of bacterial sialometabolic systems by focusing on recent advances at the molecular and host-microbe-interaction levels. The hope is that this focus will provide a framework for further research that holds promise for better understanding of the metabolic interplay between bacterial growth and the host environment. An ability to modify or block this interplay has already yielded important new insights into potentially new therapeutic approaches for modifying or blocking bacterial colonization or infection.