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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Polysialylated-neural cell adhesion molecule (PSA-NCAM) in the human trigeminal ganglion and brainstem at prenatal and adult ages

Marina Quartu*, Maria Pina Serra, Marianna Boi, Viviana Ibba, Tiziana Melis and Marina Del Fiacco

  • * Corresponding author: Marina Quartu quartu@unica.it

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

Department of Cytomorphology, University of Cagliari, Cittadella Universitaria di Monserrato, Monserrato (Cagliari), Italy

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BMC Neuroscience 2008, 9:108  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-9-108

Published: 6 November 2008

Abstract

Background

The polysialylated neuronal cell adhesion molecule (PSA-NCAM) is considered a marker of developing and migrating neurons and of synaptogenesis in the immature vertebrate nervous system. However, it persists in the mature normal brain in some regions which retain a capability for morphofunctional reorganization throughout life. With the aim of providing information relevant to the potential for dynamic changes of specific neuronal populations in man, this study analyses the immunohistochemical occurrence of PSA-NCAM in the human trigeminal ganglion (TG) and brainstem neuronal populations at prenatal and adult age.

Results

Western blot analysis in human and rat hippocampus supports the specificity of the anti-PSA-NCAM antibody and the immunodetectability of the molecule in postmortem tissue. Immunohistochemical staining for PSA-NCAM occurs in TG and several brainstem regions during prenatal life and in adulthood. As a general rule, it appears as a surface staining suggestive of membrane labelling on neuronal perikarya and proximal processes, and as filamentous and dot-like elements in the neuropil. In the TG, PSA-NCAM is localized to neuronal perikarya, nerve fibres, pericellular networks, and satellite and Schwann cells; further, cytoplasmic perikaryal staining and positive pericellular fibre networks are detectable with higher frequency in adult than in newborn tissue. In the adult tissue, positive neurons are mostly small- and medium-sized, and amount to about 6% of the total ganglionic population. In the brainstem, PSA-NCAM is mainly distributed at the level of the medulla oblongata and pons and appears scarce in the mesencephalon. Immunoreactivity also occurs in discretely localized glial structures. At all ages examined, PSA-NCAM occurs in the spinal trigeminal nucleus, solitary nuclear complex, vestibular and cochlear nuclei, reticular formation nuclei, and most of the precerebellar nuclei. In specimens of different age, the distribution pattern remains fairly steady, whereas the density of immunoreactive structures and the staining intensity may change and are usually higher in newborn than in adult specimens.

Conclusion

The results obtained show that, in man, the expression of PSA-NCAM in selective populations of central and peripheral neurons occurs not only during prenatal life, but also in adulthood. They support the concept of an involvement of this molecule in the structural and functional neural plasticity throughout life. In particular, the localization of PSA-NCAM in TG primary sensory neurons likely to be involved in the transmission of protopathic stimuli suggests the possible participation of this molecule in the processing of the relevant sensory neurotransmission.