n. A filamentous coating of glycoprotein and polysaccharide on the surface of bacteria and some other cells
Most animal epithelial cells have a fuzz-like coat on the external surface of their plasma membranes. This coating consists of several carbohydrate moieties of membrane glycolipids and glycoproteins, which serve as backbone molecules for support. Generally, the carbohydrate portion of the glycolipids found on the surface of plasma membranes helps these molecules contribute to cell-cell recognition, communication, and intercellular adhesion.
The glycocalyx is a type of identifier that the body uses to distinguish between its own healthy cells and transplanted tissues, diseased cells, or invading organisms. Included in the glycocalyx are cell-adhesion molecules that enable cells to adhere to each other and guide the movement of cells during embryonic development. The glycocalyx plays a major role in regulation of endothelial vascular tissue, including the modulation of red blood cell volume in capillaries.
The slime on the outside of a fish is an example of glycocalyx. The term was initially applied to the polysaccharide matrix coating epithelial cells, but its functions have been discovered to go well beyond that.