Heparanase: structure, biological functions, and inhibition by heparin-derived mimetics of heparan sulfate

Curr Pharm Des. 2007;13(20):2057-73. doi: 10.2174/138161207781039742.


Heparanase is an endoglycosidase which cleaves heparan sulfate (HS) and hence participates in degradation and remodeling of the extracellular matrix (ECM). Heparanase is preferentially expressed in human tumors and its over-expression in tumor cells confers an invasive phenotype in experimental animals. The enzyme also releases angiogenic factors from the ECM and thereby induces an angiogenic response in vivo. Heparanase upregulation correlates with increased tumor vascularity and poor postoperative survival of cancer patients. Heparanase is synthesized as a 65 kDa inactive precursor that undergoes proteolytic cleavage, yielding 8 kDa and 50 kDa protein subunits that heterodimerize to form an active enzyme. Heparanase exhibits also non-enzymatic activities, independent of its involvement in ECM degradation. Among these, are the enhancement of Akt signaling, stimulation of PI3K- and p38-dependent endothelial cell migration, and up regulation of VEGF, all contributing to its potent pro-angiogenic activity. Studies on relationships between structure and heparanase inhibition activity of nonanticogulant heparins systematically differing in their O-sulfation patterns, degrees of N-acetylation, and glycol-splitting of both pre-existing nonsulfated uronic acid residues (prevalently D-glucuronic) and/or those (L-iduronic acid/L-galacturonic acid) generated by graded 2-O-desulfation, have permitted to select effective inhibitors of the enzymatic activity of heparanase. N-acetylated, glycol-split heparins emerged as especially strong inhibitors of heparanase, exerting little or no release of growth factors from ECM. N-acetylated glycol-split species of heparin, as well as heparanase gene silencing inhibit tumor metastasis, angiogenesis and inflammation in experimental animal models. These observations and the unexpected identification of a single functional heparanase, suggest that the enzyme is a promising target for anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory drug development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Catalytic Domain
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Survival
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 2 / metabolism
  • Glucuronidase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Glucuronidase / chemistry*
  • Glucuronidase / physiology
  • Heparitin Sulfate / analogs & derivatives
  • Heparitin Sulfate / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / prevention & control
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic / drug effects
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / genetics


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 2
  • Heparitin Sulfate
  • heparanase
  • Glucuronidase