Glycosaminoglycans, a major component of the extracellular matrix molecules in animal tissues, play important roles in various physiological events. Glycosaminoglycans are found in not only vertebrates but also many invertebrates, implying a conserved function in the animal kingdom. Here, we discuss the analysis of glycosaminoglycans in 11 invertebrate phyla focusing on structure as well as physiological functions elucidated in model organisms. Various sulfated structures of heparan sulfate are widely distributed from very primitive organisms to humans, indicating an involvement in fundamental biological processes. By contrast, chondroitin/dermatan sulfate from lower organisms is limited in its structural complexity and often associated with a particular function. The presence of hyaluronic acid outside of vertebrates has been reported only in a mollusk.
Keywords: chondroitin sulfate; dermatan sulfate; evolution; glycosaminoglycan; heparan sulfate; hyaluronic acid; invertebrate.