Polysaccharides are carbohydrate polymers consisting of tens to hundreds to several thousand monosaccharide units. All of the common polysaccharides contain glucose as the monosaccharide unit. Polysaccharides are synthesized by plants, animals, and humans to be stored for food, structural support, or metabolized for energy.
Glycogen is the storage form of glucose in animals and humans which is analogous to the starch in plants. Glycogen is synthesized and stored mainly in the liver and the muscles. Structurally, glycogen is very similar to amylopectin with alpha acetal linkages, however, it has even more branching and more glucose units are present than in amylopectin. Various samples of glycogen have been measured at 1,700-600,000 units of glucose.
The structure of glycogen consists of long polymer chains of glucose units connected by an alpha acetal linkage. The graphic on the left shows a very small portion of a glycogen chain. All of the monomer units are alpha-D-glucose, and all the alpha acetal links connect C # 1 of one glucose to C # 4 of the next glucose.
The branches are formed by linking C #1 to a C #6 through an acetal linkages. In glycogen, the branches occur at intervals of 8-10 glucose units, while in amylopectin the branches are separated by 12-20 glucose units.
Acetal Functional Group
Carbon # 1 is called the anomeric carbon and is the center of an acetal functional group. A carbon that has two ether oxygens attached is an acetal. The Alpha position is defined as the ether oxygen being on the opposite side of the ring as the C # 6. In the chair structure this results in a downward projection. This is the same definition as the -OH in a hemiacetal.
Starch vs. Glycogen
Plants make starch and cellulose through the photosynthesis processes. Animals and human in turn eat plant materials and products. Digestion is a process of hydrolysis where the starch is broken ultimately into the various monosaccharides. A major product is of course glucose which can be used immediately for metabolism to make energy. The glucose that is not used immediately is converted in the liver and muscles into glycogen for storage by the process of glycogenesis. Any glucose in excess of the needs for energy and storage as glycogen is converted to fat.
- Charles Ophardt, Professor Emeritus, Elmhurst College; Virtual Chembook