Biochemical, Cellular, Physiological, and Pathological Consequences of Human Loss of N-Glycolylneuraminic Acid.
About 2-3 million years ago, Alu-mediated deletion of a critical exon in the CMAH gene became fixed in the hominin lineage ancestral to humans, possibly through a stepwise process of selection by pathogen targeting of the CMAH product (the sialic acid Neu5Gc), followed by reproductive isolation through female anti-Neu5Gc antibodies. Loss of CMAH has occurred independently in some other lineages, but is functionally intact in Old World primates, including our closest relatives, the chimpanzee. Although the biophysical and biochemical ramifications of losing tens of millions of Neu5Gc hydroxy groups at most cell surfaces remains poorly understood, we do know that there are multiscale effects functionally relevant to both sides of the host-pathogen interface. Hominin CMAH loss might also contribute to understanding human evolution, at the time when our ancestors were starting to use stone tools, increasing their consumption of meat, and possibly hunting. Comparisons with chimpanzees within ethical and practical limitations have revealed some consequences of human CMAH loss, but more has been learned by using a mouse model with a human-like Cmah inactivation. For example, such mice can develop antibodies against Neu5Gc that could affect inflammatory processes like cancer progression in the face of Neu5Gc metabolic incorporation from red meats, display a hyper-reactive immune system, a human-like tendency for delayed wound healing, late-onset hearing loss, insulin resistance, susceptibility to muscular dystrophy pathologies, and increased sensitivity to multiple human-adapted pathogens involving sialic acids. Further studies in such mice could provide a model for other human-specific processes and pathologies involving sialic acid biology that have yet to be explored.