Ganglioside Microdomains on Cellular and Intracellular Membranes Regulate Neuronal Cell Fate Determination

Yutaka Itokazu, Robert K. Yu

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Gangliosides are sialylated glycosphingolipids (GSLs) with essential but enigmatic functions in brain activities and neural stem cell (NSC) maintenance. Our group has pioneered research on the importance of gangliosides for growth factor receptor signaling and epigenetic regulation of NSC activity and differentiation. The primary localization of gangliosides is on cell-surface microdomains and the drastic dose and composition changes during neural differentiation strongly suggest that they are not only important as biomarkers, but also are involved in modulating NSC fate determination. Ganglioside GD3 is the predominant species in NSCs and GD3-synthase knockout (GD3S-KO) revealed reduction of postnatal NSC pools with severe behavioral deficits. Exogenous administration of GD3 significantly restored the NSC pools and enhanced the stemness of NSCs with multipotency and self-renewal. Since morphological changes during neurogenesis require a huge amount of energy, mitochondrial functions are vital for neurogenesis. We discovered that a mitochondrial fission protein, the dynamin-related protein-1 (Drp1), as a novel GD3-binding protein, and GD3 regulates mitochondrial dynamics. Furthermore, we discovered that GM1 ganglioside promotes neuronal differentiation by an epigenetic regulatory mechanism. Nuclear GM1 binds with acetylated histones on the promoters of N-acetylgalactosaminyltransferase (GalNAcT; GM2 synthase) as well as on the NeuroD1 genes in differentiated neurons. In addition, epigenetic activation of the GalNAcT gene was detected as accompanied by an apparent induction of neuronal differentiation in NSCs responding to an exogenous supplement of GM1. GM1 is indeed localized in the nucleus where it can interact with transcriptionally active histones. Interestingly, GM1 could induce epigenetic activation of the tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) gene, with recruitment of nuclear receptor related 1 (Nurr1, also known as NR4A2), a dopaminergic neuron-associated transcription factor, to the TH promoter region. In this way, GM1 epigenetically regulates dopaminergic neuron specific gene expression. GM1 interacts with active chromatin via acetylated histones to recruit transcription factors at the nuclear periphery, resulting in changes in gene expression for neuronal differentiation. The significance is that multifunctional gangliosides modulate lipid microdomains to regulate functions of important molecules on multiple sites: the plasma membrane, mitochondrial membrane, and nuclear membrane. Versatile gangliosides could regulate functional neurons as well as sustain NSC functions via modulating protein and gene activities on ganglioside microdomains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAdvances in Neurobiology
Number of pages24
StatePublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameAdvances in Neurobiology
ISSN (Print)2190-5215
ISSN (Electronic)2190-5223


  • Carbohydrate
  • Epigenetic regulation
  • Ganglioside
  • Glycosphingolipid
  • Lipid membrane
  • Microdomain
  • Mitochondrion: Neural stem cell
  • Neural development
  • Neurogenesis
  • Neuronal differentiation
  • Nucleus: Plasma membrane

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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