Sialic acids, a subset of nine carbon acidic sugars, often exist as the terminal sugars of glycans on either glycoproteins or glycolipids on the cell surface. Sialic acids play important roles in many physiological and pathological processes via carbohydrate-protein interactions, including cell–cell communication, bacterial and viral infections. In particular, hypersialylation in tumors, as well as their roles in tumor growth and metastasis, have been widely described. Recent studies have indicated that the aberrant sialylation is a vital way for tumor cells to escape immune surveillance and keep malignance. In this article, we outline the present state of knowledge on the metabolic pathway of human sialic acids, the function of hypersialylation in tumors, as well as the recent labeling and analytical techniques for sialic acids. It is expected to offer a brief introduction of sialic acid metabolism and provide advanced analytical strategies in sialic acid studies.
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