Polysialic acid in the plasticity of the developing and adult vertebrate nervous system

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008 Jan;9(1):26-35. doi: 10.1038/nrn2285.


Polysialic acid (PSA) is a cell-surface glycan with an enormous hydrated volume that serves to modulate the distance between cells. This regulation has direct effects on several cellular mechanisms that underlie the formation of the vertebrate nervous system, most conspicuously in the migration and differentiation of progenitor cells and the growth and targeting of axons. PSA is also involved in a number of plasticity-related responses in the adult CNS, including changes in circadian and hormonal patterns, adaptations to pain and stress, and aspects of learning and memory. The ability of PSA to increase the plasticity of neural cells is being exploited to improve the repair of adult CNS tissue.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Cell Movement / physiology
  • Central Nervous System / physiology
  • Central Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Embryonic Development
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Memory / physiology
  • Nervous System / embryology*
  • Nervous System / growth & development*
  • Neural Cell Adhesion Molecules / metabolism
  • Neural Cell Adhesion Molecules / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Sialic Acids / metabolism
  • Sialic Acids / physiology*
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Stem Cells / physiology
  • Vertebrates / embryology*
  • Vertebrates / growth & development*


  • Neural Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Sialic Acids
  • polysialic acid