Sialic acid feeding aged rats rejuvenates stimulated salivation and colon enteric neuron chemotypes

Glycobiology. 2009 Dec;19(12):1492-502. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cwp124. Epub 2009 Aug 20.


Old age is linked to numerous changes of body functions such as salivation, gastrointestinal motility, and permeability all linked to central and enteric nervous system decline. Thus, gut motility and barrier functions suffer. Sialic acid plays a key role in the nervous system at large and for many receptor functions specifically. Decreased sialylation in the elderly suggests an endogenous sialic acid deficit. We used a rat model of aging, to ask whether sialic acid feeding would affect (i) stimulated salivation, (ii) gut functions, and (iii) sialic acid levels and neuronal markers in brain and gut. We observed reduced levels of pilocarpine-stimulated salivation in old versus young rats and restored this function by sialic acid feeding. Brain ganglioside bound sialic acid levels were found lower in aged versus young rats, and sialic acid feeding partly restored the levels. The hypothalamic expression of cholinergic and panneuronal markers was reduced in aged rats. The expression of the nitrergic marker nNOS was increased upon sialic acid feeding in aged rats. Neither fecal output nor gut permeability was different between young and aged rats studied here, and sialic acid feeding did not alter these parameters. However, the colonic expression of specific nervous system markers nNOS and Uchl1 and the key enzyme for sialic acid synthesis GNE were differentially affected in young and aged rats by sialic acid feeding indicating that regulatory mechanisms change with age. Investigation of sialic acid supplementation as a functional nutrient in the elderly may help those who suffer from disorders of reduced salivation. Further research is needed to understand the differential effects of sialic acid feeding in young and aged rats.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / drug effects*
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain Chemistry / drug effects
  • Colon / drug effects
  • Colon / innervation*
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Eating / physiology
  • Enteric Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Enteric Nervous System / physiology
  • Gangliosides / analysis
  • Gangliosides / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Motility / drug effects
  • Intestinal Absorption / drug effects
  • Male
  • Muscarinic Agonists / pharmacology
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Neurons / chemistry
  • Neurons / classification
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Pilocarpine / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Salivation / drug effects*
  • Salivation / physiology
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects


  • Gangliosides
  • Muscarinic Agonists
  • Pilocarpine
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid