Myelin-associated glycoprotein (MAG), a protein expressed on the innermost wrap of myelin, contributes to long-term axon stability as evidenced by progressive axon degeneration in Mag-null mice. Recently, MAG was also found to protect axons from acute toxic insults. In the current study, rat dorsal root ganglion neurons were cultured on control substrata and substrata adsorbed with myelin proteins. Neurons on myelin-adsorbed surfaces were resistant to acute degeneration of neurites induced by vincristine, a cancer chemotherapeutic agent with neuropathic side effects. Myelin-mediated protection was reversed by anti-MAG antibody and was absent when cells were cultured on extracts from Mag-null mouse myelin, confirming the protective role of MAG. Gangliosides (sialylated glycosphingolipids) are one functional class of axonal receptors for MAG. In the current studies, a direct role for gangliosides in mediating the acute protective effects of MAG was established. Treatment of neurons with sialidase, an enzyme that cleaves the terminal sialic acids required for MAG binding, reversed MAG’s protective effect, as did treatment with (1R,2R)-1-phenyl-2-hexadecanoylamino-3-pyrrolidino-1-propanol, an inhibitor of glycosphingolipid biosynthesis. In contrast, treatment with phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C, an enzyme that cleaves Nogo receptors (NgR, another class of MAG receptor), or with a peptide inhibitor of an NgR-associated signaling molecule, p75NTR, failed to diminish MAG-mediated protection. Inhibiting the Rho-associated protein kinase ROCK reversed protection. We conclude that MAG protects neurites from acute toxic insult via a ganglioside-mediated signaling pathway that involves activation of RhoA. Understanding MAG-mediated protection may provide opportunities to reduce axonal damage and loss.
Keywords: Gangliosides, myelin-associated glycoprotein (MAG), GD1a, GT1b, Siglec-4, vincristine, Nogo receptor