Sialic acid: A key to unlocking brain disorders

Public Release: 30-Jun-2015

New research in The FASEB Journal, in mice, suggests that small changes in the way that sialic acid is attached to cell surfaces in the brain affects motor skills, learning, and hyperactivity

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

A new report published in the July 2015 issue of The FASEB Journal suggests that a common molecule found in higher animals, including humans, affects brain structure. This molecule may play a significant role in how brain cells communicate, possibly shedding light on the underlying causes of certain brain disorders. The study, involving mice, shows that small changes in how sialic acid attaches to cell surfaces result in damaging effects on brain structure, poor motor skills, hyperactivity, and difficulty in learning.

“Sialic acid is part of the molecular language that cells use to communicate among themselves,” said Ronald L. Schnaar, Ph.D., a senior researcher involved in the work from the Departments of Pharmacology and Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. “As we learn that language, we can use the knowledge to better understand disease and perhaps to thoughtfully intervene.”

To make their discovery, Schnaar and colleagues mutated mouse genes responsible for sialic acid attachment, then compared the brain structure, motor functions, activity, and learning in these mice to that of normal mice. They found that the mice that had altered sialic acid attachment had significant neurological problems when compared to the normal mice.

“The molecular codes that control the human brain are as yet poorly worked out,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “This report shows how small molecules such as sialic acid direct cell communication to profoundly affect behavior. With this information, researchers have new ways to work out the mechanisms that determine hyperactivity and other brain disorders.”


Receive monthly highlights from The FASEB Journal by e-mail. Sign up at The FASEB Journal is published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). It is the world’s most cited biology journal according to the Institute for Scientific Information and has been recognized by the Special Libraries Association as one of the top 100 most influential biomedical journals of the past century.

FASEB is composed of 27 societies with more than 125,000 members, making it the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States. Our mission is to advance health and welfare by promoting progress and education in biological and biomedical sciences through service to our member societies and collaborative advocacy.

Details: Seung-Wan Yoo, Mary G. Motari, Keiichiro Susuki, Jillian Prendergast, Andrea Mountney, Andres Hurtado, and Ronald L. Schnaar. Sialylation regulates brain structure and function. FASEB J. July 2015 29:3040-3053; doi:10.1096/fj.15-270983 ;

Categories: . Bioweapon or Potential, . Defensive Medicine

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