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J Biol Chem. 2014 Mar 21;289(12):8194-202. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M113.539452. Epub 2014 Feb 7.

The circulating glycosaminoglycan signature of respiratory failure in critically ill adults.

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From the Program in Translational Lung Research, Department of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado 80045.


Systemic inflammatory illnesses (such as sepsis) are marked by degradation of the endothelial glycocalyx, a layer of glycosaminoglycans (including heparan sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid) lining the vascular lumen. We hypothesized that different pathophysiologic insults would produce characteristic patterns of released glycocalyx fragments. We collected plasma from healthy donors as well as from subjects with respiratory failure due to altered mental status (intoxication, ischemic brain injury), indirect lung injury (non-pulmonary sepsis, pancreatitis), or direct lung injury (aspiration, pneumonia). Mass spectrometry was employed to determine the quantity and sulfation patterns of circulating glycosaminoglycans. We found that circulating heparan sulfate fragments were significantly (23-fold) elevated in patients with indirect lung injury, while circulating hyaluronic acid concentrations were elevated (32-fold) in patients with direct lung injury. N-Sulfation and tri-sulfation of heparan disaccharides were significantly increased in patients with indirect lung injury. Chondroitin disaccharide sulfation was suppressed in all groups with respiratory failure. Plasma heparan sulfate concentrations directly correlated with intensive care unit length of stay. Serial plasma measurements performed in select patients revealed that circulating highly sulfated heparan fragments persisted for greater than 3 days after the onset of respiratory failure. Our findings demonstrate that circulating glycosaminoglycans are elevated in patterns characteristic of the etiology of respiratory failure and may serve as diagnostic and/or prognostic biomarkers of critical illness.


Chondroitin Sulfate; Endothelial Glycocalyx; Glycobiology; Heparan Sulfate; Hyaluronate; Lung Injury; Respiratory Failure; Sepsis

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