N-Glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc), an abundant sialic acid in animal glycoconjugates, is formed by the enzyme CMP-N-acetylneuraminic acid (CMP-Neu5Ac) hydroxylase. The amount of Neu5Gc relative to other sialic acids is highly dependent on the species, tissue and developmental stage. Although the activity of the hydroxylase is a key factor in controlling Neu5Gc incorporation in adult animals, little is known about the regulation of hydroxylase expression and the role of this enzyme in determining changes in Neu5Gc during development. Using pig small intestine as a model system, the appearance of total sialic acid and the regulation of Neu5Gc biosynthesis during development were studied in various regions of this tissue. The amount of total sialic acid and Neu5Gc declined markedly in 2 weeks after birth. Although in subsequent developmental phases there were no positional differences in total sialic acid, a significant proximal-to-distal increase in Neu5Gc was detected. In all cases, a good correlation between the amount of Neu5Gc, the activity of the hydroxylase and the level of hydroxylase mRNA was observed. However, Western-blot analysis revealed considerable accumulation of less active enzyme in the post partum period, which persisted until adulthood. No evidence for cytosolic factors influencing the hydroxylase activity or for the formation of truncated enzyme was found, raising the possibility that other regulatory mechanisms are involved. The relevance of these results in the formation of Neu5Gc as a receptor for certain pig enteric pathogens is also discussed.

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