Uridine diphosphate-N-acetylglucosamine-2-epimerase/N-acetylmannosamine kinase deletion in mice leads to lethal intracerebral hemorrhage during embryonic development

Glycobiology. 2021 Dec 18;31(11):1478-1489. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cwab069.


Among the enzymes of the biosynthesis of sialoglycoconjugates, uridine diphosphate-N-acetylglucosamine-2-epimerase/N-acetylmannosamine kinase (GNE), catalyzing the first essential step of the sialic acid (Sia) de novo biosynthesis, and cytidine monophosphate (CMP)-Sia synthase (CMAS), activating Sia to CMP-Sia, are particularly important. The knockout of either of these enzymes in mice is embryonically lethal. While the lethality of Cmas-/- mice has been attributed to a maternal complement attack against asialo fetal placental cells, the cause of lethality in Gne-deficient embryos has remained elusive. Here, we advanced the significance of sialylation for embryonic development through detailed histological analyses of Gne-/- embryos and placentae. We found that Gne-/- embryonic and extraembryonic tissues are hyposialylated rather than being completely deficient of sialoglycans, which holds true for Cmas-/- embryos. Residual sialylation of Gne-/- cells can be explained by scavenging free Sia from sialylated maternal serum glycoconjugates via the lysosomal salvage pathway. The placental architecture of Gne-/- mice was unaffected, but severe hemorrhages in the neuroepithelium with extensive bleeding into the cephalic ventricles were present at E12.5 in the mutants. At E13.5, the vast majority of Gne-/- embryos were asystolic. This phenotype persisted when Gne-/- mice were backcrossed to a complement component 3-deficient background, confirming distinct pathomechanisms of Cmas-/- and Gne-/- mice. We conclude that the low level of sialylation observed in Gne-/- mice is sufficient both for immune homeostasis at the fetal-maternal interface and for embryonic development until E12.5. However, formation of the neural microvasculature is the first critical process, depending on a higher degree of sialylation during development of the embryo proper.

Keywords: GNE; angiogenesis; embryogenesis; placenta; sialic acid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biocatalysis
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / metabolism*
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / pathology
  • Embryonic Development
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Multienzyme Complexes / deficiency
  • Multienzyme Complexes / metabolism*
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid / biosynthesis


  • Multienzyme Complexes
  • UDP-N-acetylglucosamine 2-epimerase - N-acetylmannosamine kinase
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid