The highly sialylated isoform of the neural cell adhesion molecule is thought to be expressed predominantly in the developing nervous system, where it is implicated in a variety of dynamic events linked to neural morphogenesis. It has become increasingly evident, however, that this "embryonic" neural cell adhesion molecule isoform continues to be expressed in certain adult neuronal systems, and in particular, in those that can undergo structural plasticity. In the present study, we performed light microscopic immunocytochemistry with an antibody specific for polysialylated neural cell adhesion molecule and confirmed our earlier observations [Bonfanti L. et al. (1992) Neuroscience 49, 419-436] showing polysialylated neural cell adhesion molecule-immunoreactive cells in the subependymal layer of the lateral ventricle of the adult rat, a region where cell proliferation continues into the postnatal period. In addition, we used an antibody raised against the proliferating cell nuclear antigen and found that proliferating cells continue to be visible in this area, even in the adult. Double immunolabeling showed that many of these newly generated cells displayed high polysialylated neural cell adhesion molecule immunoreactivity. Cells from a portion of the subependymal layer migrate to the olfactory bulb and contribute to the continual replacement of its granule neurons [Luskin M. B. (1993) Neuron 11, 173-189]. We found polysialylated neural cell adhesion molecule-immunoreactive cells all along the pathway purported to be followed by the newly generated cells to their final destination and in neurons corresponding to granular and periglomerular cells in the olfactory bulb. Our present observations thus support the contention that polysialylation is a feature of neurons capable of dynamic change and may contribute to the molecular mechanisms permitting cell proliferation and migration not only during development but also in the adult.