Structural analysis of glucans
Glucans are most widespread polysaccharides in the nature. There is a large diversity in their molecular weight and configuration depending on the original source. According to the anomeric structure of glucose units it is possible to distinguish linear and branched α-, β- as well as mixed α,β-glucans with various glycoside bond positions and molecular masses. Isolation of glucans from raw sources needs removal of ballast compounds including proteins, lipids, polyphenols and other polysaccharides. Purity control of glucan fractions is necessary to evaluate the isolation and purification steps; more rigorous structural analyses of purified polysaccharides are required to clarify their structure. A set of spectroscopic, chemical and separation methods are used for this purpose. Among them, NMR spectroscopy is known as a powerful tool in structural analysis of glucans both in solution and in solid state. Along with chemolytic methods [methylation analysis (MA), periodate oxidation, partial chemical or enzymatic hydrolysis, etc.], correlation NMR experiments are able to determine the exact structure of tested polysaccharides. Vibration spectroscopic methods (FTIR, Raman) are sensitive to anomeric structure of glucans and can be used for purity control as well. Molecular weight distribution, homogeneity and branching of glucans can be estimated by size-exclusion chromatography (SEC), laser light scattering (LLS) and viscometry.