Polysialyltransferases: major players in polysialic acid synthesis on the neural cell adhesion molecule

Biochimie. Jan-Feb 2003;85(1-2):195-206. doi: 10.1016/s0300-9084(03)00051-8.


Polysialic acid is a unique carbohydrate composed of a linear homopolymer of alpha2,8-linked sialic acid, and is mainly attached to the fifth immunoglobulin-like domain of the neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) via a typical N-linked glycan in vertebrate neural system. Polysialic acid plays critical roles in neural development by modulating adhesive property of NCAM such as neural cell migration, neurite outgrowth, neural pathfinding, and synaptogenesis. The expression of polysialic acid is temporally and spatially regulated during neural development. Polysialylation of NCAM is catalyzed by two polysialyltransferases, ST8Sia II (STX) and ST8Sia IV (PST), which belong to the family of six genes encoding alpha 2,8-sialyltransferases. ST8Sia II and IV are expressed differentially in tissue-specific and cell-specific manners, and they apparently have distinct roles in development and organogenesis. The presence of polysialic acid is always associated with expression of ST8Sia II and/or IV, suggesting that ST8Sia II and IV are the key enzymes that control the expression of polysialic acid. Both ST8Sia II and IV can transfer multiple alpha 2,8-linked sialic acid residues to an acceptor N-glycan containing a NeuNAc alpha 2-->3 (or 6) Gal beta 1-->4GlcNAc beta 1-->R structure without participation of other enzymes. The two enzymes differently but cooperatively act on NCAM and the amount of polysialic acid synthesized by both enzymes together is greater than that synthesized by either enzyme alone. The polysialyltransferases are thus important regulators in polysialic acid synthesis and contribute to neural development in the vertebrate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Glycosylation
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulins / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neural Cell Adhesion Molecules / metabolism*
  • Sialic Acids / biosynthesis
  • Sialic Acids / metabolism*
  • Sialyltransferases / chemistry
  • Sialyltransferases / genetics
  • Sialyltransferases / metabolism*


  • Immunoglobulins
  • Neural Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Sialic Acids
  • polysialic acid
  • CMP-N-acetylneuraminate-poly-alpha-2,8-sialosyl sialyltransferase
  • Sialyltransferases