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♦ See referenced article, J. Biol. Chem. 2013, 288, 36762–36771
A receptor called langerin lets pathogens enter the immune system as part of the body's adaptive immune response. The receptor, which is found on Langerhans cells, binds sugar molecules on the surfaces of pathogens such as HIV, the measles virus, and some species of yeast. In this Paper of the Week, a team led by Maureen Taylor at Imperial College London looked into how genetic variations in the human langerin gene affected the molecule's ability to bind to sugars. They demonstrated that two common and linked genetic variations altered langerin's sugar-binding specificity. For example, one genetic variation changed lysine to isoleucine in the sugar-binding site. Taylor and colleagues showed that “this amino acid change abolishes binding to oligosaccharides with terminal 6SO4-Gal and enhances binding to oligosaccharides with terminal GlcNAc residues.” The authors concluded that people with different forms of langerin may have different susceptibilities to pathogens.