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Glycocalyx

Glycocalyx

The glycocalyx is a carbohydrate-enriched coating that covers the outside of many eukaryotic cells and prokaryotic cells, particularly bacteria . When on eukaryotic cells the glycocalyx can be a factor used for the recognition of the cell. On bacterial cells, the glycocalyx provides a protective coat from host factors. The possession of a glycocalyx on bacteria is associated with the ability of the bacteria to establish an infection.

The glycocalyx of bacteria can assume several forms. If in a condensed form that is relatively tightly associated with the underlying cell wall, the glycocalyx is referred to as a capsule. A more loosely attached glycocalyx that can be removed from the cell more easily is referred to as a slime layer.

The bacterial glycocalyx can vary in structure from bacteria to bacteria. Even particular bacteria can be capable of producing a glycocalyx of varying structure, depending upon the growth conditions and nutrients available. Generally, the glycocalyx is constructed of one or more sugars that are called saccharides. If more than one saccharide is present, the glycocalyx is described as being made of polysaccharide. In some glycocalyces, protein can also be present.

There are two prominent functions of the glycocalyx. The first function is to enable bacteria to become harder for the immune cells called phagocytes so surround and engulf. This is because the presence of a glycocalyx increases the effective diameter of a bacterium and also covers up components of the bacterium that the immune system would detect and be stimulated by. Thus, in a sense, a bacterium with a glycocalyx becomes more invisible to the immune system of a host.

Infectious strains of bacteria such as Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Pseudomonas tend to elaborate more glycocalyx than their corresponding non-infectious counterparts.

The second function of a bacterial glycocalyx is to promote the adhesion of the bacteria to living and inert surfaces and the subsequent formation of adherent, glycocalyx-enclosed populations that are called biofilms . Biofilm bacteria can become very hard to kill, party due to the presence of the glycocalyx material. Many persistent infections in the body are caused by bacterial biofilms. One example is the dental plaque formed by glycocalyx-producing Streptococcus mutans, which can become a focus for tooth enamel-digesting acid formed by the bacteria. Another example is the chronic lung infections formed in those afflicted with certain forms of cystic fibrosis by glycocalyx-producing Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The latter infections can cause sufficient lung damage to prove lethal.

See also Anti-adhesion methods; Bacterial surface layers

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glycocalyx

glycocalyx (cell coat)
1. A layer of carbohydrate on the surface of the plasma membrane of most eukaryotic cells. It is made up of the oligosaccharide side-chains of the glycolipid and glycoprotein components of the membrane and may include oligosaccharides secreted by the cell. It plays a role in cell–cell adhesion and in regulating the exchange of materials between a cell and its environment.

2. The outermost layer of a bacterium, typically consisting of numerous polysaccharides plus various glycoproteins. The glycocalyx varies in thickness and consistency: in some species it forms a flexible slime layer while in others it forms a rigid and relatively impermeable capsule.

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