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Protein toxins released by certain intestinal bacteria are the cause of many diarrhoeal diseases including cholera and travellers' diarrhoea. The toxins enter their target cells by first binding to specific glycolipids in the cell membrane. Inhibition of these protein–carbohydrate interactions has the potential to prevent the toxins from reaching their site of action, and thus avoid the ensuing diarrhoea. Simple oligosaccharides typically have low affinities for the protein toxins, therefore inhibitor design has focussed on exploiting the principles of multivalency: multiple weak interactions acting in concert can enhance the overall binding interaction. The major classes of multivalent inhibitors investigated to date will be discussed; these include glycopolymers, glycodendrimers, tailored glycoclusters and inhibitors exploiting templated assembly.
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