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.
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