Gangliosides-sialylated glycosphingolipids-are the major glycoconjugates of nerve cells. The same four structures-GM1, GD1a, GD1b and GT1b-comprise the great majority of gangliosides in mammalian brains. They share a common tetrasaccharide core (Gal1-3GalNAc1-4Gal1-4Glc1-1′Cer) with one or two sialic acids on the internal galactose and zero (GM1 and GD1b) or one (GD1a and GT1b) 2-3-linked sialic acid on the terminal galactose. Whereas the genes responsible for the sialylation of the internal galactose are known, those responsible for terminal sialylation have not been established in vivo. We report that St3gal2 and St3gal3 are responsible for nearly all the terminal sialylation of brain gangliosides in the mouse. When brain ganglioside expression was analyzed in adult St3gal1-, St3gal2-, St3gal3-and St3gal4-null mice, only St3gal2-null mice differed significantly from wild type, expressing half the normal amount of GD1a and GT1b. St3gal1/2-double-null mice were no different than St3gal2-single-null mice; however, St3gal2/3-double-null mice were >95 depleted in gangliosides GD1a and GT1b. Total ganglioside expression (lipid-bound sialic acid) in the brains of St3gal2/3-double-null mice was equivalent to that in wild-type mice, whereas total protein sialylation was reduced by half. St3gal2/3-double-null mice were small, weak and short lived. They were half the weight of wild-type mice at weaning and displayed early hindlimb dysreflexia. We conclude that the St3gal2 and St3gal3 gene products (ST3Gal-II and ST3Gal-III sialyltransferases) are largely responsible for ganglioside terminal 2-3 sialylation in the brain, synthesizing the major brain gangliosides GD1a and GT1b.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by NIH (NS037096 to R.L.S.) and was also supported by NIH (CA071932 and HL057345 to J. D.M.). The authors gratefully acknowledge access to the resources and expertise supported by NIH (P41 RR018502).
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