Neuronal expression of GalNAc transferase is sufficient to prevent the age-related neurodegenerative phenotype of complex ganglioside-deficient mice

Denggao Yao, Rhona McGonigal, Jennifer A. Barrie, Joanna Cappell, Madeleine E. Cunningham, Gavin R. Meehan, Simon N. Fewou, Julia M. Edgar, Edward Rowan, Yuhsuke Ohmi, Keiko Furukawa, Koichi Furukawa, Peter J. Brophy, Hugh J. Willison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Gangliosides are widely expressed sialylated glycosphingolipids with multifunctional properties in different cell types and organs. In the nervous system, they are highly enriched in both glial and neuronal membranes. Mice lacking complex gangliosides attributable to targeted ablation of the B4galnt1 gene that encodes β-1,4-N-acetylegalactosaminyltransferase 1 (GalNAc–transferase; GalNAcT−/−) develop normally before exhibiting an age-dependent neurodegenerative phenotype characterized by marked behavioral abnormalities, central and peripheral axonal degeneration, reduced myelin volume, and loss of axo-glial junction integrity. The cell biological substrates underlying this neurodegeneration and the relative contribution of either glial or neuronal gangliosides to the process are unknown. To address this, we generated neuron-specific and glial-specific GalNAcT rescue mice crossed on the global GalNAcT−/− background [GalNAcT−/−-Tg(neuronal) and GalNAcT−/−-Tg(glial)] and analyzed their behavioral, morphological, and electrophysiological phenotype. Complex gangliosides, as assessed by thin-layer chromatography, mass spectrometry, GalNAcT enzyme activity, and anti-ganglioside antibody (AgAb) immunohistology, were restored in both neuronal and glial GalNAcT rescue mice. Behaviorally, GalNAcT−/−-Tg(neuronal) retained a normal “wild-type” (WT) phenotype throughout life, whereas GalNAcT−/−-Tg(glial) resembled GalNAcT−/− mice, exhibiting progressive tremor, weakness, and ataxia with aging. Quantitative electron microscopy demonstrated that GalNAcT−/− and GalNAcT−/−-Tg(glial) nerves had significantly increased rates of axon degeneration and reduced myelin volume, whereas GalNAcT−/−-Tg(neuronal) and WT appeared normal. The increased invasion of the paranode with juxtaparanodal Kv1.1, characteristically seen in GalNAcT−/− and attributed to a breakdown of the axo-glial junction, was normalized in GalNAcT−/−-Tg(neuronal) but remained present in GalNAcT−/−-Tg(glial) mice. These results indicate that neuronal rather than glial gangliosides are critical to the age-related maintenance of nervous system integrity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)880-891
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2014


  • ganglioside
  • glycosyltransferase
  • neurodegeneration
  • transgenic


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