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J Neurocytol. 1992 May;21(5):363-73.

H-CAM expression in the human nervous system: evidence for a role in diverse glial interactions.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Stanford University School of Medicine, California 94305.


H-CAM (CD44/Hermes antigen) is an 85-95 kDa widely-distributed cell surface adhesion molecule that participates in diverse cellular interactions. It is an important cell surface receptor of hyaluronate, and has been implicated in the binding of circulating lymphocytes of endothelial cells in the process of lymphocyte homing. Here we define the immunohistological distribution of H-CAM in the human nervous system as a means of assessing its possible participation in nervous system ontogeny and function. H-CAM is widely expressed in human CNS white matter by subsets of glial cells, and within the neuropil of several grey matter structures. Neurons appear uniformly negative. H-CAM+ cells and processes are first detected at 20 weeks gestation in a diffuse subependymal pattern, and staining of the anchoring processes but not the cortical extensions of radial glia is seen by 24 weeks. Beginning at 26 weeks, H-CAM+ astrocytes also demarcate fascicles of axons in developing white matter tracts, becoming diffusely distributed in all CNS white matter by full term gestation. In the mature CNS, fibrous and subpial astrocytes, glial outlines within the glomeruli of the cerebellar granule cell layer, Bergmann glia, and extraneuronal grey matter matrix in certain locations are H-CAM+. In reactive gliosis occurring in foetal and developed brains, H-CAM is strongly and uniformly expressed by GFAP+ astroglial cells. In the PNS, dorsal roots express substantially higher levels of H-CAM than ventral roots, and there is an accompanying inverse staining pattern displayed by weakly immunoreactive posterior horns and positive anterior horns. Also, there is an abrupt cessation of H-CAM expression at the junction of the central and peripheral segments of cranial nerves. These findings indicate the dynamic regulation of H-CAM expression in the developing human nervous system, and suggest the hyaluronate-binding activity and potentially other cell-cell or cell-matrix adhesive functions of H-CAM may play an important role in development of the nervous system.

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