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J Biol Chem. 1989 Apr 25;264(12):6892-7.

Importance of size, sulfation, and anticoagulant activity in the potentiation of acidic fibroblast growth factor by heparin.

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  • 1Laboratory for Surgical Research, Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.


Heparin was previously reported to potentiate the mitogenic activity of endothelial cell mitogens in a crude extract of bovine hypothalami (Thornton, S. C., Mueller, S. N., and Levine, E. M. (1983) Science 222, 623-625). We and others (Gospodarowicz, D., and Cheng, J. (1986) J. Cell. Physiol. 128, 475-484) have reported that the growth stimulatory effects of acidic fibroblast growth factor (aFGF) are potentiated in a similar manner. We have used these observations as the basis of an assay to characterize the importance of size, sulfation, and anticoagulant activity of heparin in mediating this effect. Partial nitrous acid depolymerization of heparin from porcine intestinal mucosa resulted in a mixture of heparin fragments, containing oligosaccharides ranging from disaccharides to polysaccharides of about 40 monosaccharides in length. This mixture was fractionated by ion exchange chromatography and gel permeation chromatography to obtain size-homogeneous oligosaccharides with different degrees of sulfation. Assay of these heparin-derived saccharides in the presence of a suboptimal concentration of aFGF revealed that a minimum chain length and a certain degree of sulfation is required in order to potentiate the action of aFGF. Low sulfate oligosaccharides (4-16 units) were unable to potentiate aFGF, whereas medium sulfate fractions of octadecasaccharides and larger were able to moderately potentiate aFGF. The potentiation of aFGF by the high sulfate fraction correlated with the saccharide size: 12 or more monosaccharide units were necessary to achieve potentiation equivalent to whole heparin, octa- and decasaccharides were mildly stimulatory, and hexasaccharides were without effect. In the absence of aFGF, intact heparin as well as all the oligosaccharides examined, inhibited the proliferation of capillary endothelial cells to approximately the same degree, between 20 and 50% inhibition. When a tetradecasaccharide was separated into a binding and a nonbinding fraction on matrix-bound antithrombin III, no difference was seen for these fractions in the endothelial cell proliferation assay. These results indicate that both size and sulfation of a heparin-derived oligosaccharide contribute to its ability to interact with aFGF and/or endothelial cells and that this interaction is independent of anticoagulant activity. In addition, our findings suggest that the inhibitory and potentiating effects of heparin on capillary endothelial cells have different structural requirements.

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