Ganglioside loading of cultured fibroblasts: a provocative method for the diagnosis of the GM2 gangliosidoses

Joel Charrow*, Helen J. Binns

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Confirmation of deficient β-hexosaminidase activity in suspected cases of GM2 gangliosidosis may be difficult with available assay systems if the residual activity is high (as in many juvenile cases and genetic compounds). Hexosaminidase activity is normal in the AB-variant (activator protein deficiency), although GM2-ganglioside (GM2) catabolism is severely impaired. We therefore examined ganglioside degradation in intact fibroblasts in culture. Intracellular ganglioside levels were determined in cultured human skin fibroblasts grown in standard tissue culture medium or medium supplemented with mixed bovine brain gangliosides. Cellular uptake and catabolism of the added gangliosides were manifested by modest increases in the intracellular concentrations of gangliosides GT + GD and GM1 in all cells tested, and marked accumulation of GM2 in fibroblasts from patients with GM2 gangliosidoses. Intracellular GM2 increased five-to fifteen-fold in all of the GM2 gangliosidosis cell lines tested, including those from patients with infantile Tay-Sachs disease (TSD), Sandhoff disease, late infantile and juvenile variants of TSD with high residual enzyme activity, adult onset GM2 gangliosidosis, and the AB-variant. Significant GM2 accumulation did not occur in fibroblasts from patients with GM2 gangliosidosis grown in standard medium, or in normal fibroblasts grown in ganglioside enriched medium. Our method of ganglioside feeding employs commercially available materials and no special equipment. It should be useful for the confirmation of impaired GM2 catabolism in a variety of settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-49
Number of pages9
JournalClinica Chimica Acta
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 15 1986


  • AB-variant
  • Bovine brain ganglioside
  • G-Gangliosidosis
  • Ganglioside
  • Hexosaminidase
  • Sandhoff disease
  • Tay-Sachs disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry, medical


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