The presence of HS (heparan sulphate) proteoglycans on the cell surface and in the extracellular environment is critical to many physiological processes including the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing vasculature (angiogenesis). A plethora of growth factors and their receptors, extracellular matrix molecules and enzymes bind to specific sites on the HS sugar chain. For example, HS proteoglycans have profound effects on the bioactivity of the key angiogenic factor VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) (VEGF165), affecting its diffusion, half-life and interaction with its tyrosine kinase receptors. A number of HS structural features that mediate the specific binding of VEGF165, including sulphation requirements, have been determined. In parallel, zebrafish embryos were used as a vertebrate model system to study the role in vascular development of the biosynthetic enzymes that create these specific binding sites on HS. It was discovered that knockdown of one of the HS 6-O-sulphotransferases in zebrafish with morpholino antisense oligonucleotides reduced vascular branching and corresponded to changes in the HS structure. The roles of the extracellular 6-O-sulphatase enzymes, the sulfs, in vascular development are now being investigated. Both oligosaccharides and small molecule biosynthetic enzyme inhibitors could be valuable HS-based strategies for controlling aberrant angiogenesis in diseases as diverse as cancer and heart disease.

You do not currently have access to this content.