PSA-NCAM in mammalian structural plasticity and neurogenesis

Prog Neurobiol. 2006 Oct;80(3):129-64. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2006.08.003. Epub 2006 Oct 9.


Polysialic acid (PSA) is a linear homopolymer of alpha2-8-N acetylneuraminic acid whose major carrier in vertebrates is the neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM). PSA serves as a potent negative regulator of cell interactions via its unusual biophysical properties. PSA on NCAM is developmentally regulated thus playing a prominent role in different forms of neural plasticity spanning from embryonic to adult nervous system, including axonal growth, outgrowth and fasciculation, cell migration, synaptic plasticity, activity-induced plasticity, neuronal-glial plasticity, embryonic and adult neurogenesis. The cellular distribution, developmental changes and possible function(s) of PSA-NCAM in the central nervous system of mammals here are reviewed, along with recent findings and theories about the relationships between NCAM protein and PSA as well as the role of different polysialyltransferases. Particular attention is focused on postnatal/adult neurogenesis, an issue which has been deeply investigated in the last decade as an example of persisting structural plasticity with potential implications for brain repair strategies. Adult neurogenic sites, although harbouring all subsequent steps of cell differentiation, from stem cell division to cell replacement, do not faithfully recapitulate development. After birth, they undergo morphological and molecular modifications allowing structural plasticity to adapt to the non-permissive environment of the mature nervous tissue, that are paralled by changes in the expression of PSA-NCAM. The use of PSA-NCAM as a marker for exploring differences in structural plasticity and neurogenesis among mammalian species is also discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Nervous System / embryology*
  • Nervous System / growth & development
  • Nervous System / metabolism
  • Neural Cell Adhesion Molecule L1 / chemistry
  • Neural Cell Adhesion Molecule L1 / metabolism*
  • Neural Pathways / embryology
  • Neural Pathways / growth & development
  • Neural Pathways / metabolism
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Sialic Acids / chemistry
  • Sialic Acids / metabolism*
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Stem Cells / metabolism*


  • Neural Cell Adhesion Molecule L1
  • Sialic Acids
  • polysialyl neural cell adhesion molecule