Gangliosides, sialic acid-containing glycosphingolipids, are abundant in the vertebrate (mammalian) nervous system. Their composition is spatially and developmentally regulated, and gangliosides have been widely believed to lay essential roles in establishment of the nervous system, especially in neuritogenesis and synaptogenesis. However, this has never been tested directly. Here we report the generation of mice with a disrupted beta 1,4-N-acetylgalactosaminyltransferase (GM2/GD2 synthase; EC 220.127.116.11) gene. The mice lacked all complex gangliosides. Nevertheless, they did not show any major histological defects in their nervous systems or in gross behavior. Just a slight reduction in the neural conduction velocity from the tibial nerve to the somatosensory cortex, but not to the lumbar spine, was detected. These findings suggest that complex gangliosides are required in neuronal functions but not in the morphogenesis and organogenesis of the brain. The higher levels of GM3 and GD3 expressed in the brains of these mutant mice may be able to compensate for the lack of complex gangliosides.
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