An oligosaccharide (/ˌɑlɪgoʊˈsækəˌɹaɪd/; from the Greek ὀλίγος olígos, "a few", and σάκχαρ sácchar, "sugar") is a saccharide polymer containing a small number (typically two to ten) of monosaccharides (simple sugars). Oligosaccharides can have many functions including cell recognition and cell adhesion.
They are normally present as glycans: oligosaccharide chains are linked to lipids or to compatible amino acid side chains in proteins, by N- or O-glycosidic bonds. N-Linked oligosaccharides are always pentasaccharides attached to asparagine via a beta linkage to the amine nitrogen of the side chain. Alternately, O-linked oligosaccharides are generally attached to threonine or serine on the alcohol group of the side chain. Not all natural oligosaccharides occur as components of glycoproteins or glycolipids. Some, such as the raffinose series, occur as storage or transport carbohydrates in plants. Others, such as maltodextrins or cellodextrins, result from the microbial breakdown of larger polysaccharides such as starch or cellulose.