Keeping track of the growing number of biological functions of chitin and its interaction partners in biomedical research

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Chitin is a vital polysaccharide component of protective structures in many eukaryotic organisms but seems absent in vertebrates. Chitin or chitin oligomers are therefore prime candidates for non-self-molecules, which are recognized and degraded by the vertebrate immune system. Despite the absence of polymeric chitin in vertebrates, chitinases and chitinase-like proteins (CLPs) are well conserved in vertebrate species. In many studies, these proteins have been found to be involved in immune regulation and in mediating the degradation of chitinous external protective structures of invading pathogens. Several important aspects of chitin immunostimulation have recently been uncovered, advancing our understanding of the complex regulatory mechanisms that chitin mediates. Likewise, the last few years have seen large advances in our understanding of the mechanisms and molecular interactions of chitinases and CLPs in relation to immune response regulation. It is becoming increasingly clear that their function in this context is not exclusive to chitin producing pathogens, but includes bacterial infections and cancer signaling as well. Here we provide an overview of the immune signaling properties of chitin and other closely related biomolecules. We also review the latest literature on chitinases and CLPs of the GH18 family. Finally, we examine the existing literature on zebrafish chitinases, and propose the use of zebrafish as a versatile model to complement the existing murine models. This could especially be of benefit to the exploration of the function of chitinases in infectious diseases using high-throughput approaches and pharmaceutical interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-482
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - May 2015

    Research areas

  • Animals, Chitin, Chitinase, Evolution, Molecular, Humans, Signal Transduction

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