Order out of chaos: assembly of ligand binding sites in heparan sulfate

Annu Rev Biochem. 2002;71:435-71. doi: 10.1146/annurev.biochem.71.110601.135458. Epub 2001 Nov 9.


Virtually every cell type in metazoan organisms produces heparan sulfate. These complex polysaccharides provide docking sites for numerous protein ligands and receptors involved in diverse biological processes, including growth control, signal transduction, cell adhesion, hemostasis, and lipid metabolism. The binding sites consist of relatively small tracts of variably sulfated glucosamine and uronic acid residues in specific arrangements. Their formation occurs in a tissue-specific fashion, generated by the action of a large family of enzymes involved in nucleotide sugar metabolism, polymer formation (glycosyltransferases), and chain processing (sulfotransferases and an epimerase). New insights into the specificity and organization of the biosynthetic apparatus have emerged from genetic studies of cultured cells, nematodes, fruit flies, zebrafish, rodents, and humans. This review covers recent developments in the field and provides a resource for investigators interested in the incredible diversity and specificity of this process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antithrombins / metabolism
  • Binding Sites
  • Body Patterning
  • Enzymes / genetics
  • Enzymes / metabolism
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 2 / metabolism
  • Heparitin Sulfate / chemistry*
  • Heparitin Sulfate / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Molecular Structure
  • Oligosaccharides / chemistry
  • Oligosaccharides / metabolism
  • Protein Binding


  • Antithrombins
  • Enzymes
  • Ligands
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 2
  • Heparitin Sulfate