Ganglioside is a compound composed of a glycosphingolipid (ceramide and oligosaccharide) with one or more sialic acids (AKA n-acetylneuraminic acid) linked on the sugar chain. The 60+ known gangliosides differ mainly in the position and number of NANA residues.

It is a component of the cell plasma membrane that modulates cell signal transduction events. It appears that they concentrate in lipid rafts.

They have recently been found to be highly important in immunology. Natural and semisynthetic gangliosides are considered possible therapeutics for neurodegenerative disorders.

Gangliosides are more complex glycosphingolipids in which oligosaccharide chains containing N-acetylneuraminic acid (NeuNAc) are attached to a ceramide. NeuNAc, an acetylated derivative of the carbohydrate sialic acid, makes the head groups of Gangliosides anionic. NB: the M in GM2 stands for monosialo, i.e., one NeuNAc residue. GM2 is the second monosialo ganglioside characterized, thus the subscript 2. Their structural diversity results from variation in the composition and sequence of the sugar residues. In all Gangliosides, the ceramide is linked through its C-1 to a β-glucosyl residue, which, in turn, is bound to a β-galactosyl residue.


They are present on cell surfaces, with the 2 hydrocarbon chains of the ceramide moiety embedded in the plasma membrane and the oligosaccharides on the extracellular surface. They are found predominantly in the nervous system where they constitute 6% of all phospholipids.

They are involved in diverse roles including cell-to-cell contact, ion conductance, and receptor.


Gangliosides, glycosphingolipids, and glycoproteins found on the surface of oligosaccharide provide cells with distinguishing surface markers that can serve in cellular recognition and cell-to-cell communication. Structures similar to the ABO blood group antigens on the surface of human cells can be oligosaccharide components of glycosphingolipids in addition to being linked to proteins to form glycoproteins.

Common gangliosides

structures of the common gangliosides

GM2-1 = aNeu5Ac(2-3)bDGalp(1-?)bDGalNAc(1-?)bDGalNAc(1-?)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
GM3 = aNeu5Ac(2-3)bDGalp(1-4)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
GM2,GM2a(?) = bDGalpNAc(1-4)[aNeu5Ac(2-3)]bDGalp(1-4)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
GM2b(?) = aNeu5Ac(2-8)aNeu5Ac(2-3)bDGalp(1-4)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
GM1,GM1a = bDGalp(1-3)bDGalNAc[aNeu5Ac(2-3)]bDGalp(1-4)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
asialo-GM1,GA1 = bDGalp(1-3)bDGalpNAc(1-4)bDGalp(1-4)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
asialo-GM2,GA2 = bDGalpNAc(1-4)bDGalp(1-4)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
GM1b = aNeu5Ac(2-3)bDGalp(1-3)bDGalNAc(1-4)bDGalp(1-4)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
GD3 = aNeu5Ac(2-8)aNeu5Ac(2-3)bDGalp(1-4)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
GD2 = bDGalpNAc(1-4)[aNeu5Ac(2-8)aNeu5Ac(2-3)]bDGalp(1-4)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
GD1a = aNeu5Ac(2-3)bDGalp(1-3)bDGalNAc(1-4)[aNeu5Ac(2-3)]bDGalp(1-4)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
GD1alpha = aNeu5Ac(2-3)bDGalp(1-3)bDGalNAc(1-4)[aNeu5Ac(2-6)]bDGalp(1-4)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
GD1b = bDGalp(1-3)bDGalNAc(1-4)[aNeu5Ac(2-8)aNeu5Ac(2-3)]bDGalp(1-4)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
GT1a = aNeu5Ac(2-8)aNeu5Ac(2-3)bDGalp(1-3)bDGalNAc(1-4)[aNeu5Ac(2-3)]bDGalp(1-4)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
GT1,GT1b = aNeu5Ac(2-3)bDGalp(1-3)bDGalNAc(1-4)[aNeu5Ac(2-8)aNeu5Ac(2-3)]bDGalp(1-4)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
OAc-GT1b = aNeu5Ac(2-3)bDGalp(1-3)bDGalNAc(1-4)aXNeu5Ac9Ac(2-8)aNeu5Ac(2-3)]bDGalp(1-4)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
GT1c = bDGalp(1-3)bDGalNAc(1-4)[aNeu5Ac(2-8)aNeu5Ac(2-8)aNeu5Ac(2-3)]bDGalp(1-4)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
GT3 = aNeu5Ac(2-8)aNeu5Ac(2-8)aNeu5Ac(2-3)bDGal(1-4)bDGlc(1-1)Cer
GQ1b = aNeu5Ac(2-8)aNeu5Ac(2-3)bDGalp(1-3)bDGalNAc(1-4)[aNeu5Ac(2-8)aNeu5Ac(2-3)]bDGalp(1-4)bDGlcp(1-1)Cer
GGal = aNeu5Ac(2-3)bDGalp(1-1)Cer

aNeu5Ac = 5-acetyl-alpha-neuraminic acid
aNeu5Ac9Ac = 5,9-diacetyl-alpha-neuraminic acid
bDGalp = beta-D-galactopyranose
bDGalpNAc = N-acetyl-beta-D-galactopyranose
bDGlcp = beta-D-glucopyranose
Cer = ceramide (general N-acylated sphingoid)



Mutations in genes coding for enzymes of ganglioside metabolism cause severe lipid storage diseases called gangliosidoses, that encomprise gangliosidosis GM1 and gangliosidosis GM2 (Tay-Sachs Disease and Sandhoff disease).

The non-functioning beta-galactosidase (GM1) or hexosaminidase (GM2) causes the accumulation of gangliosides in lysososmes (lysosomal storage disease) of several cells (macrophages, neurons), disturbing their functions.


Ganglioside are also involved in several diseases:


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