Abstract The free and bound nonspecific esterases occurring in, respectively, the saline and triton X-100 extracts of adult and developing human brain were studied by starch gel electrophoresis (zymograms). Zymograms of the free esterase fraction visualized with NA as substrate were qualitatively similar at 5-12 days of age to the electrophoretic patterns observed in adult material. In both adult and developing brain, zymograms of bound esterase resembled those of the free enzyme, the major difference being the presence in the former of a slow, broad, anodic zone of diethyl-p-nitrophenyl phosphate-inhibited enzyme.
Esterases characteristic of adult white matter and having preferential affinity for alpha-naphthylpropionate, alpha-naphthyl butyrate and alpha-naphthyl valerate were not identified in infant brain until about 4 months postnatal age.
A far-moving, anodic enzyme was distinctly evident in zymograms of brains of less than 1 month of age. This enzyme hydrolysed NP, NB, and NV more actively than alpha-naphthyl acetate. It was present in the adult brain but, in contrast to the infant, was no longer electrophoretically-separable from another enzyme which had greater affinity for NA and had previously been designated the A10 band.
Quantitative assays demonstrated that the bound esterase increased in cerebral and cerebellar cortex during development. In contrast, the proportion of free to bound esterase showed little change in white matter.
Acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase zymograms became identical to adult patterns from 1 to 4 months of age.
Thiolacetic acid esterase was present at 38 weeks gestation.
Some functional and anatomical correlations were attempted in explanation of the biochemical observations.