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J Clin Invest. 2002 Jul;110(1):127-36.

Heparin's anti-inflammatory effects require glucosamine 6-O-sulfation and are mediated by blockade of L- and P-selectins.

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Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of California-San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0687, USA.


Heparin has been used clinically as an anticoagulant and antithrombotic agent for over 60 years. Here we show that the potent anti-inflammatory property of heparin results primarily from blockade of P-selectin and L-selectin. Unfractionated heparin and chemically modified analogs were tested as inhibitors of selectin binding to immobilized sialyl Lewis(X) and of cell adhesion to immobilized selectins or thrombin-activated endothelial cells. Compared with unfractionated heparin, the modified heparinoids had inhibitory activity in this general order: over-O-sulfated heparin > heparin > 2-O,3-O-desulfated > or = N-desulfated/N-acetylated heparin > or = carboxyl-reduced heparin > or= N-,2-O,3-O-desulfated heparin >> 6-O-desulfated heparin. The heparinoids also showed similar differences in their ability to inhibit thioglycollate-induced peritonitis and oxazolone-induced delayed-type hypersensitivity. Mice deficient in P- or L-selectins showed impaired inflammation, which could be further reduced by heparin. However, heparin had no additional effect in mice deficient in both P- and L-selectins. We conclude that (a) heparin's anti-inflammatory effects are mainly mediated by blocking P- and L-selectin-initiated cell adhesion; (b) the sulfate groups at C6 on the glucosamine residues play a critical role in selectin inhibition; and (c) some non-anticoagulant forms of heparin retain anti-inflammatory activity. Such analogs may prove useful as therapeutically effective inhibitors of inflammation.

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