Author(s): Finne J, Lorry Rubin
Abstract The structurally similar polysialic acid capsules of group B meningococci and Escherichia coli K1 are poor immunogens, and attempts are currently being made to improve their immunogenicity by chemical modifications. An IgG monoclonal antibody to these polysialic acid capsules was used for the study of the presence of structurally similar components in tissue glycoproteins to investigate the reasons for the poor immunogenicity and to evaluate potential dangers in active or passive immunization. By immunoblotting polysialic acid was detected outside the brain in newborn rat kidney, heart, and muscle. It appeared in immunoblots as one component and with similar mobility to the neural cell adhesion molecule N-CAM. Specificity studies of the antibody and endosialidase treatment showed that the polysialic acid glycans detected were composed of chains as long as eight sialic acid residues or more. The polysialic acid was not detected in the corresponding tissues of the adult animal. These results indicate that polysialic acid units are developmentally regulated components of both neural and extraneural tissues, and are bound to components with properties similar to a known cell-adhesion molecule. This together with the presence of low amounts of polysialic acid even in the adult brain, suggests potential hazards in vaccination trials and suggested immunotherapy of meningitis caused by group B meningococci or E. coli K1, which should be carefully assessed.