Neural-cell adhesion molecules (N-CAMs) are members of the immunoglobulin superfamily mediating homo- and heterophilic cell-cell interactions. N-CAM exists in various isoforms which are generated by alternative splicing. During embryonic development, N-CAMs are expressed in derivatives of all three germ layers, whereas in the adult animal they are predominantly present in neural tissue. Processes like neurulation, axonal outgrowth, histogenesis of the retina and development of the olfactory system are correlated with the regulated expression of N-CAMs. We show here that N-CAM-deficient mice generated by gene targeting appear healthy and fertile, but adult mutants show a 10% reduction in overall brain weight and a 36% decline in size of the olfactory bulb. N-CAM deficiency coincides with almost total loss of protein-bound alpha-(2,8)-linked polysialic acid, a carbohydrate structure thought to be correlated with neural development and plasticity. The animals showed deficits in spatial learning when tested in the Morris water maze, whereas activity and motor abilities appeared normal.