Reduced sialylation triggers homeostatic synapse and neuronal loss in middle-aged mice

Neurobiol Aging. 2020 Apr:88:91-107. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2020.01.008. Epub 2020 Jan 21.


Sialic acid-binding Ig-like lectin (Siglec) receptors are linked to neurodegenerative processes, but the role of sialic acids in physiological aging is still not fully understood. We investigated the impact of reduced sialylation in the brain of mice heterozygous for the enzyme glucosamine-2-epimerase/N-acetylmannosamine kinase (GNE+/-) that is essential for sialic acid biosynthesis. We demonstrate that GNE+/- mice have hyposialylation in different brain regions, less synapses in the hippocampus and reduced microglial arborization already at 6 months followed by increased loss of neurons at 12 months. A transcriptomic analysis revealed no pro-inflammatory changes indicating an innate homeostatic immune process leading to the removal of synapses and neurons in GNE+/- mice during aging. Crossbreeding with complement C3-deficient mice rescued the earlier onset of neuronal and synaptic loss as well as the changes in microglial arborization. Thus, sialic acids of the glycocalyx contribute to brain homeostasis and act as a recognition system for the innate immune system in the brain.

Keywords: Aging; GNE; Glycocalyx; Microglia; Neurodegeneration; Neuroinflammation; Sialic acid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / immunology*
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / immunology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Homeostasis
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Racemases and Epimerases / metabolism
  • Sialic Acid Binding Immunoglobulin-like Lectins / physiology
  • Sialic Acids / biosynthesis
  • Sialic Acids / physiology*
  • Synapses / pathology*


  • Sialic Acid Binding Immunoglobulin-like Lectins
  • Sialic Acids
  • Racemases and Epimerases