The sialic acids are a family of 9-carbon sugar acids found predominantly on the cell-surface glycans of humans and other animals within the Deuterostomes and are also used in the biology of a wide range of bacteria that often live in association with these animals. For many bacteria sialic acids are simply a convenient source of food, whereas for some pathogens they are also used in immune evasion strategies. Many bacteria that use sialic acids derive them from the environment and so are dependent on sialic acid uptake. In this mini-review I will describe the discovery and characterization of bacterial sialic acids transporters, revealing that they have evolved multiple times across multiple diverse families of transporters, including the ATP-binding cassette (ABC), tripartite ATP-independent periplasmic (TRAP), major facilitator superfamily (MFS) and sodium solute symporter (SSS) transporter families. In addition there is evidence for protein-mediated transport of sialic acids across the outer membrane of Gram negative bacteria, which can be coupled to periplasmic processing of different sialic acids to the most common form, β-D-N-acetylneuraminic acid (Neu5Ac) that is most frequently taken up into the cell.

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