BACKGROUNDSeveral glycan structures are functionally relevant in biological events associated with differentiation and regeneration which occur in the central nervous system. Here we have analysed the glycogene expression and glycosylation patterns during human NT2N neuron differentiation. We have further studied the impact of downregulating fucosyltransferase 9 (FUT9) on neurite outgrowth.METHODSThe expression of glycogenes in human NT2N neurons differentiating from teratocarcinoma NTERA-2/cl.D1 cells has been analysed using the GlycoV4 GeneChip expression microarray. Changes in glycosylation have been monitored by immunoblot, immunofluorescence microscopy, HPLC and MALDI-TOF MS. Peptide mass fingerprinting and immunoprecipitation have been used for protein identification. FUT9 was downregulated using silencing RNA.RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONSOne hundred twelve mRNA transcripts showed statistically significant up-regulation, including the genes coding for proteins involved in the synthesis of the Lewis(x) motif (FUT9), polysialic acid (ST8SIA2 and ST8SIA4) and HNK-1 (B3GAT2). Accordingly, increased levels of the corresponding carbohydrate epitopes have been observed. The Lewis(x) structure was found in a carrier glycoprotein that was identified as the CRA-a isoform of human neural cell adhesion molecule 1. Downregulation of FUT9 caused significant decreases in the levels of Lewis(x), as well as GAP-43, a marker of neurite outgrowth. Concomitantly, a reduction in neurite formation and outgrowth has been observed that was reversed by FUT9 overexpression.GENERAL SIGNIFICANCEThese results provided information about the regulation of glycogenes during neuron differentiation and they showed that the Lewis(x) motif plays a functional role in neurite outgrowth from human neurons.