Physiological exploration of the long term evolutionary selection against expression of N-Glycolylneuraminic Acid in the Brain

Yuko Naito-Matsui, Leela R.L. Davies, Hiromu Takematsu, Hsun Hua Chou, Pam Tangvoranuntakul, Aaron F. Carlin, Andrea Verhagen, Charles J. Heyser, Seung Wan Yoo, Biswa Choudhury, James C. Paton, Adrienne W. Paton, Nissi M. Varki, Ronald L. Schnaar, Ajit Varki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


All vertebrate cell surfaces display a dense glycan layer often terminated with sialic acids, which have multiple functions due to their location and diverse modifications. The major sialic acids in most mammalian tissues are N-acetylneuraminic acid (Neu5Ac) and N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc), the latter being derived from Neu5Ac via addition of one oxygen atom at the sugar nucleotide level by CMP-Neu5Ac hydroxylase (Cmah). Contrasting with other organs that express various ratios of Neu5Ac and Neu5Gc depending on the variable expression of Cmah, Neu5Gc expression in the brain is extremely low in all vertebrates studied to date, suggesting that neural expression is detrimental to animals. However, physiological exploration of the reasons for this long term evolutionary selection has been lacking. To explore the consequences of forced expression of Neu5Gc in the brain, we have established brain-specific Cmah transgenic mice. Such Neu5Gc overexpression in the brain resulted in abnormal locomotor activity, impaired object recognition memory, and abnormal axon myelination. Brain-specific Cmah transgenic mice were also lethally sensitive to a Neu5Gcpreferring bacterial toxin, even though Neu5Gc was overexpressed only in the brain and other organs maintained endogenous Neu5Gc expression, as in wild-type mice. Therefore, the unusually strict evolutionary suppression of Neu5Gc expression in the vertebrate brain may be explained by evasion of negative effects on neural functions and by selection against pathogens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2557-2570
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number7
StatePublished - Feb 17 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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