In the present study, the pig CMP-N-acetylneuraminic acid hydroxylase gene (pcmah), a key enzyme for the synthesis of NeuGc (N-glycolylneuraminic acid), was cloned from pig small intestine and characterized. The ORF (open reading frame) of pcmah was 1734 bp, encoding 577 amino acids and consisting of 14 exons. Organ expression pattern analysis reveals that pcmah mRNA is mainly expressed in pig rectum, tongue, spleen and colon tissues, being the most highly expressed in small intestine. In the ectopic expression of pcmah, when pig kidney PK15 cells and human vascular endothelial ECV304 cells were transfected with the cloned pcmah, the NeuGc contents of these transfectants were greater in comparison with vector transfectants used as controls. In addition, in the functional analysis of NeuGc, HSMC (human-serum-mediated cytotoxicity) was elevated in the ectopic NeuGc-expressing pcmah-transfected cells compared with controls. Moreover, binding of human IgM to the pcmah-transfected cells was significantly increased, whereas binding of IgG was slightly increased, indicating that the human IgM type was a major anti-NeuGc antibody. Furthermore, pcmah silencing by shRNA (short hairpin RNA) resulted in a decrease in NeuGc content and xenoantigenicity in PK15. From the results, it was concluded that the pcmah gene was capable of synthesizing the NeuGc acting as a xenoantigen in humans, confirming the NeuGc-mediated rejection response in pig–human xenotransplantation.

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