identify disaccharides as compounds consisting of two monosaccharide units joined by a glycoside link between the C1 of one sugar and one of the hydroxyl groups of a second sugar. identify the two monosaccharide units in a given disaccharide. identify the type of glycoside link (e.g., 1,4′‑β) present in a given disaccharide structure. draw the structure of a specific disaccharide, given the structure of the monosaccharide units and the type of glycoside link involved.

Note: If α‑ or β‑D‑glucose were one of the monosaccharide units, its structure would not be provided.

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identify the structural feature that determines whether or not a given disaccharide behaves as a reducing sugar and undergoes mutarotation, and write equations to illustrate these phenomena. identify the products formed from the hydrolysis of a given disaccharide.

Key Terms

Make certain that you can define, and use in context, the key terms below.

1,4′ link disaccharide (see Section 25.1) invert sugar

Study Notes

Notice that most of the disaccharides discussed in this section contain one unit of D-glucose. You are not expected to remember the detailed structures of maltose, lactose and sucrose. Similarly, we do not expect you to remember the systematic names of these substances.

Previously, you learned that monosaccharides can form cyclic structures by the reaction of the carbonyl group with an OH group. These cyclic molecules can in turn react with another alcohol. Disaccharides (C12H22O11) are sugars composed of two monosaccharide units that are joined by a carbon–oxygen-carbon linkage known as a glycosidic linkage. This linkage is formed from the reaction of the anomeric carbon of one cyclic monosaccharide with the OH group of a second monosaccharide.


The disaccharides differ from one another in their monosaccharide constituents and in the specific type of glycosidic linkage connecting them. There are three common disaccharides: maltose, lactose, and sucrose. All three are white crystalline solids at room temperature and are soluble in water. We’ll consider each sugar in more detail.

Maltose is a reducing sugar. Thus, its two glucose molecules must be linked in such a way as to leave one anomeric carbon that can open to form an aldehyde group. The glucose units in maltose are joined in a head-to-tail fashion through an α-linkage from the first carbon atom of one glucose molecule to the fourth carbon atom of the second glucose molecule (that is, an α-1,4-glycosidic linkage; see Figure 1). The bond from the anomeric carbon of the first monosaccharide unit is directed downward, which is why this is known as an α-glycosidic linkage. The OH group on the anomeric carbon of the second glucose can be in either the α or the β position, as shown in Figure 1.


Many adults and some children suffer from a deficiency of lactase. These individuals are said to be lactose intolerant because they cannot digest the lactose found in milk. A more serious problem is the genetic disease galactosemia, which results from the absence of an enzyme needed to convert galactose to glucose. Certain bacteria can metabolize lactose, forming lactic acid as one of the products. This reaction is responsible for the “souring” of milk.

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The sucrose molecule is unique among the common disaccharides in having an α-1,β-2-glycosidic (head-to-head) linkage. Because this glycosidic linkage is formed by the OH group on the anomeric carbon of α-D-glucose and the OH group on the anomeric carbon of β-D-fructose, it ties up the anomeric carbons of both glucose and fructose.