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PLoS One. 2009 Dec 11;4(12):e8241. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0008241.

Sialic acid utilisation and synthesis in the neonatal rat revisited.

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Nestlé Research Center, Vers-chez-les-Blanc, Lausanne, Switzerland.



Milk is the sole source of nutrients for neonatal mammals and is generally considered to have co-evolved with the developmental needs of the suckling newborn. One evolutionary conserved constituent of milk and present on many glycoconjugates is sialic acid. The brain and colon are major sites of sialic acid display and together with the liver also of synthesis.


In this study we examined in rats the relationship between the sialic acid content of milk and the uptake, utilization and synthesis of sialic acid in suckling pups. In rat milk sialic acid was found primarily as 3' sialyllactose and at highest levels between 3 and 10 days postpartum and that decreased towards weaning. In the liver of suckling pups sialic acid synthesis paralleled the increase in milk sialic acid reaching and keeping maximum activity from postnatal day 5 onwards. In the colon, gene expression profiles suggested that a switch from sialic acid uptake and catabolism towards sialic acid synthesis and utilization occurred that mirrored the change of sialic acid in milk from high to low expression. In brain sialic acid related gene expression profiles did not change to any great extent during the suckling period.


Our results support the views that (i) when milk sialic acid levels are high, in the colon this sialic acid is catabolized to GlcNAc that in turn may be used as such or used as substrate for sialic acid synthesis and (ii) when milk sialic acid levels are low the endogenous sialic acid synthetic machinery in colon is activated.

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