During the rat weaning period (about day 19 after birth) the intestinal maturation is accompanied by a drastic increase in the fucose content of mucosal glycoconjugates, concomitant with an increase in fucosyltransferase activities. The regulation of this fucosylation process appears to be a rather complex phenomenon, which involves several systems controlling fucosyltransferase activity or substrate availability. An endogenous protein inhibitor of the fucosyltransferase activities displays an opposite developmental pattern to that of fucosyltransferase activities, since its activity is high before weaning and is decreased 5-fold after weaning. Similarly, the GDP-fucose pyrophosphatase activity markedly decreases at weaning. The transformation of GDP-mannose into GDP-fucose increases early, at day 18, preceding the increase in fucosyltransferase activities. Before weaning, and especially at days 14 and 18, high levels of GDP-4-dehydro-6-deoxymannose, the product of the GDP-mannose 4,6-dehydratase activity, are produced during the transformation of GDP-mannose into GDP-fucose, even in excess of reduced coenzyme. This fact indicates that the second step of the transformation (epimerase-reductase reaction) could be a limiting factor for GDP-fucose availability before weaning, but not after weaning. The inverse relationship between the mucosal fucose content (or the fucosyltransferase activity) and the endogenous protein inhibitor during normal postnatal development supports the hypothesis of a physiological role for this inhibitor.

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