Polysialic acid in the rat brainstem and thoracolumbar spinal cord: distribution, cellular location, and comparison with mouse

Shila Shahbazian, Phillip Bokiniec, Britt A. Berning, Simon McMullan, Ann K. Goodchild*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)


    Polysialic acid (polySia), a homopolymer of α2,8-linked glycans, is a posttranslational modification on a few glycoproteins, most commonly in the brain, on the neural cell adhesion molecule. Most research in the adult central nervous system has focused on its expression in higher brain regions, where its distribution coincides with regions known to exhibit high levels of synaptic plasticity. In contrast, scant attention has been paid to the expression of polySia in the hindbrain. The main aims of the study were to examine the distribution of polySia immunoreactivity in the brainstem and thoracolumbar spinal cord, to compare the distribution of polySia revealed by two commercial antibodies commonly used for its investigation, and to compare labeling in the rat and mouse. We present a comprehensive atlas of polySia immunoreactivity: we report that polySia labeling is particularly dense in the dorsal tegmentum, medial vestibular nuclei and lateral parabrachial nucleus, and in brainstem regions associated with autonomic function, including the dorsal vagal complex, A5, rostral ventral medulla, A1, and midline raphe, as well as sympathetic preganglionic neurons in the spinal cord and central targets of primary sensory afferents (nucleus of the solitary tract, spinal trigeminal nucleus, and dorsal horn [DH]). Ultrastructural examination showed labeling was present predominantly on the plasma membrane/within the extracellular space/in or on astrocytes. Labeling throughout the brainstem and spinal cord were very similar for the two antibodies and was eliminated by the polySia-specific sialidase, Endo-NF. Similar patterns of distribution were found in rat and mouse brainstem with differences evident in DH.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)811-827
    Number of pages17
    JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
    Issue number4
    Early online date12 Jul 2020
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


    • brainstem
    • mAb 5324
    • mAb 735
    • polysialic acid
    • RRID:AB_1141521
    • RRID:AB_142018
    • RRID:AB_1720846
    • RRID:AB_2079751
    • RRID:AB_2307438
    • RRID:AB_2313584
    • RRID:AB_2534102
    • RRID:AB_2536180
    • RRID:AB_2556528
    • RRID:AB_259091
    • RRID:AB_2619682
    • RRID:AB_307275
    • RRID:AB_887905
    • RRID:AB_941782
    • RRID:AB_95211
    • RRID:AB_955447
    • spinal cord


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