Chain and Ring Structure
Many simple sugars can exist in a chain form or a ring form, as illustrated by the hexoses. The ring form is favored in aqueous solutions, and the mechanism of ring formation is similar for most sugars. The glucose ring form is created when the oxygen on carbon number 5 links with the carbon comprising the carbonyl group (carbon number 1) and transfers its hydrogen to the carbonyl oxygen to create a hydroxyl group. The rearrangement produces alpha glucose when the hydroxyl group is on the opposite side of the -CH2OH group, or beta glucose when the hydroxyl group is on the same side as the -CH2OH group. Isomers, such as these, which differ only in their configuration about their carbonyl carbon atom are called anomers. The little D in the name derives from the fact that natural glucose is dextrorotary, i.e., it rotates polarized light to the right, but it now denotes a specific configuration. Monosaccharides forming a five-sided ring, like ribose, are called furanoses. Those forming six-sided rings, like glucose, are called pyranoses.