Structural Basis for the Polysialylation of the Neural Cell Adhesion Molecule

  • Karen J. ColleyEmail author
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 663)


Polysialic acid is a unique glycan polymer composed of long chains of α2, 8-linked sialic acid residues; it is found on a small subset of mammalian proteins. The neural cell adhesion molecule, NCAM, is the most abundant polysialylated protein in mammalian cells. The presence of polysialic acid on NCAM has been demonstrated to decrease cell adhesion, and it is critical for a variety of processes including brain development, synaptic plasticity, axon guidance and pathfinding, neurite outgrowth, and general cell migration. Polysialic acid is also expressed on the surface of several highly metastatic cancers and has been implicated in cancer cell growth and invasiveness. This review will focus on the protein specificity of the polysialylation of NCAM by summarizing the current information on the sequence and structural requirements for NCAM recognition, and polysialylation by the polysialyltransferases, ST8Sia IV/PST and ST8Sia II/STX.


NCAM Polysialic acid Fibronectin type III repeat Immunoglobulin domain β-Sandwich 



I would like to thank Deirdre Foley for providing Figure 5. I am also very grateful to Dr. Nikolina Sekulic and Saugata Hazra for providing the structural representations in Figures 2 and 3. I would also like to extend my thanks to members of my laboratory (K. Swartzentruber, D. Foley, W. Zhao, and M. Thompson) for critiquing this manuscript and helping with its assembly. This work was supported by NIH RO1 GM63843 to K. J. C.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biochemistry and Molecular GeneticsUniversity of Illinois, College of MedicineChicagoUSA

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