Heparan sulfate, a highly sulfated polysaccharide, is present on the surface of mammalian cells and in the extracellular matrix in large quantities. The sulfated monosaccharide sequences within heparan sulfate determine the protein binding specificity and regulate biological functions. Numerous viruses and parasites utilize cell surface heparan sulfate as receptors to infect target cells. Due to the structural complexity of heparan sulfate, it was considered a nonspecific cell surface receptor by interacting with the positive motifs of viral proteins. However, recent studies reveal that heparan sulfate plays multiple roles in assisting viral infection, and the activities in promoting viral infections require unique monosaccharide sequences, suggesting that heparan sulfate could serve as a specific receptor for viral infection. The currently available techniques for the structural analysis of heparan sulfate provide essential information about the specific roles of heparan sulfate in assisting viral infections. The knowledge accumulated in this fast growing field will permit us to have a better understanding of the mechanism of viral infection and will lead to the development of new antiviral agents.
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.