Antibodies of the IgG class carry a pair of oligosaccharides (N-glycans) in the Fc region. The importance of the N-glycan is clearly demonstrated by its profound effect in the physicochemical and biological properties of antibodies. The term 'glycoengineering' has been coined to describe contemporary strategies to improve the performance of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies on the basis of modifications in the structure and composition of the N-glycan. These methodologies have resulted in the approval and commercialization of a new generation of antibodies with improved therapeutic efficacy. So far, these advances have been driven by herculean efforts in a process of trial-and-error. The collective work of researchers in this field is progressively revealing the molecular basis of N-glycans for the function of antibodies. This knowledge will ultimately be conducive to the application of rational approaches for the successful manipulation of antibodies using glycoengineering strategies. Herein, we review advances in our understanding of the role of the N-glycan in the structural and dynamic integrity, and biological activity, of antibodies. Since the N-glycan has a multifaceted effect in antibodies, in this review we have emphasized the importance of integrating various techniques that address this problem from multiple points of view. In particular, the combination of X-ray crystallography with nuclear magnetic resonance, molecular dynamics simulations and biophysical approaches based on thermodynamic principles, has emerged as a powerful combination that is deepened our understanding of this unique system with critical implications for human well-being.
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