The large quantities of polysialic acid (PSA) characterizing highly sialylated isoform of the neural cell adhesion molecule (PSA-NCAM), greatly reduce cell adhesion and render this particular cell surface adhesion molecule a likely candidate to intervene in dynamic neuronal phenomena, such as synaptic plasticity. The hypothalamic arcuate nucleus expresses high levels of PSA-NCAM and maintains a high capacity for neuroplastic changes in the adult. Thus, in the arcuate nucleus of female rats, varying circulating levels of estrogen give rise to a reversible reduction in the number of axo-somatic GABA synapses, together with a changing ensheathing of neuronal somata by astrocytes. To examine the role of PSA in such changes, we perturbed its expression, either by blockade with antibodies raised against this carbohydrate moiety (delivered intracerebroventricularly), or by its enzymatic cleavage after microinjection of endoneuraminidase N over the arcuate nucleus. Either procedure was performed in ovariectomized adult rats that received concurrent treatment with 17β-estradiol. Morphological synaptic plasticity was analysed using the unbiased disector method to assess synaptic densities in ultrathin sections of the arcuate nucleus immunogold-labelled for GABA. As expected, 17β-estradiol induced a significant reduction in the number of GABAergic axo-somatic synapses, a reduction which did not occur after infusion of anti-PSA antibodies or in vivo enzymatic removal of PSA from NCAM. Taken together, our results provide strong evidence that the presence of large quantities of the PSA moiety on NCAM is a necessary prerequisite for estrogen-induced phasic remodelling of synapses in the adult female arcuate nucleus.
- Polysialic acid
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