The neural cell adhesion molecules (N-CAM) occur chiefly in two molecular forms that are selectively expressed at various stages of development. Highly sialylated forms prevalent in embryonic and neonatal brain are gradually replaced by less sialylated forms as development proceeds. Here we describe a monoclonal antibody raised against the capsular polysaccharides of meningococcus group B (Men B) which specifically distinguishes embryonic N-CAM from adult N-CAM. This antibody recognizes alpha 2-8-linked N-acetylneuraminic acid units (NeuAc alpha 2-8). Immunoblot together with immunoprecipitation experiments with cell lines or tissue extracts showed that N-CAM are the major glycoproteins bearing such polysialosyl units. Moreover we could not detect any sialoglycolipid reactive with this antibody in mouse brain or in the neural cell lines examined. By indirect immunofluorescence staining this anti-Men B antibody decorated cells such as AtT20 (D16/16), which expressed the embryonic forms of N-CAM, but not cells that expressed the adult forms. In primary cultures this antibody allowed us to follow the embryonic-to-adult conversion in individual cells. In addition, the existence of cross-reactive polysialosyl structures on Men B and N-CAM in embryonic brain cells for caution in efforts to develop immunotherapy against neonatal meningitis.

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