A rat brain Golgi sialyltransferase activity capable of the differentiation-dependent control of N-CAM sialylation state is described. The specific activity of Golgi sialyltransferase was found to be developmentally regulated with respect to both endogenous and exogenous protein acceptors, with a particular elevation on postnatal days 10–12 when the heavily sialylated or ‘embryonic’ form of N-CAM is re-expressed. The subsequent developmental decrease in activity was associated with a significant decrease in apparent Km for the CMP-NeuNAc substrate, but not for the asialofetuin exogenous acceptor, which could not be attributed to the temporal expression of an endogenous competitive inhibitor. The apparent Vmax remained constant for CMP-NeuNAc but was significantly reduced for asialofetuin. Sialyltransferase activity, which was optimal at pH 7.0-7.5, was also modulated by various cations. Zinc abolished enzyme function, in contrast to ferric ions which stimulated activity fourfold-sevenfold. The marked activation of the adult form of the enzyme by potassium and magnesium ions, together with the alterations in kinetic constants, suggested this activity to be distinct from that derived from postnatal day-12 tissue. The kinetics of [14C]sialic acid incorporation into immuno-precipitated N-CAM demonstrated the individual polypeptides to be sialylated, possibly by addition of polysialosyl units, in a developmental sequence. The presence of four distinct sialyltransferase activities was demonstrated by non-denaturing gel electrophoresis followed by solid-phase enzyme assay. These isoforms were temporally expressed during development, two being correlated with the postnatal reexpression of the ‘embryonic’ form of N-CAM.

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