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Dev Neurobiol. 2008 Aug;68(9):1170-84. doi: 10.1002/dneu.20649.

Polysialic acid controls NCAM-induced differentiation of neuronal precursors into calretinin-positive olfactory bulb interneurons.

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Institute of Cellular Chemistry, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany.


Understanding the mechanisms that regulate neurogenesis is a prerequisite for brain repair approaches based on neuronal precursor cells. One important regulator of postnatal neurogenesis is polysialic acid (polySia), a post-translational modification of the neural cell adhesion molecule NCAM. In the present study, we investigated the role of polySia in differentiation of neuronal precursors isolated from the subventricular zone of early postnatal mice. Removal of polySia promoted neurite induction and selectively enhanced maturation into a calretinin-positive phenotype. Expression of calbindin and Pax6, indicative for other lineages of olfactory bulb interneurons, were not affected. A decrease in the number of TUNEL-positive cells indicated that cell survival was slightly improved by removing polySia. Time lapse imaging revealed the absence of chain migration and low cell motility, in the presence and absence of polySia. The changes in survival and differentiation, therefore, could be dissected from the well-known function of polySia as a promoter of precursor migration. The differentiation response was mimicked by exposure of cells to soluble or substrate-bound NCAM and prevented by the C3d-peptide, a synthetic ligand blocking NCAM interactions. Moreover, a higher degree of differentiation was observed in cultures from polysialyltransferase-depleted mice and after NCAM exposure of precursors from NCAM-knockout mice demonstrating that the NCAM function is mediated via heterophilic binding partners. In conclusion, these data reveal that polySia controls instructive NCAM signals, which direct the differentiation of subventricular zone-derived precursors towards the calretinin-positive phenotype of olfactory bulb interneurons.

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