While gangliosides appear to be ubiquitous in vertebrate cells, those of the neuron are characterized by their unusually high concentration and structural complexity. This has given rise to the concept of neuron-specific function(s), apart from their physiological roles in other cells. Current views on metabolism, localization, transport and developmental changes of neuronal gangliosides are briefly summarized. A large part of current research is focused on the neuritogenic and neuronotrophic properties of gangliosides, as exemplified in their ability to induce differentiation in some primary neuronal cultures and neuroblastoma cell lines. Exogenously administered gangliosides also function in vivo to facilitate survival and repair of damaged neurons in both the CNS and PNS. Efforts are now directed toward elucidation of the underlying molecular mechanisms and the relation of such 'exogenous' effects to the functioning of endogenous gangliosides normally present in the neuron.
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