Expanding glycosaminoglycan chemical space: towards the creation of sulfated analogs, novel polymers and chimeric constructs

Glycobiology. 2017 Jul 1;27(7):646-656. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cwx021.


Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) have therapeutic potential in areas ranging from angiogenesis, inflammation, hemostasis and cancer. GAG bioactivity is conferred by intrinsic structural features, such as disaccharide composition, glycosidic linkages and sulfation pattern. Unfortunately, the in vitro enzymatic synthesis of defined GAGs is quite restricted by a limited understanding of current GAG synthases and modifying enzymes. Our work provides insights into GAG-active enzymes through the creation of sulfated oligosaccharides, a new polysaccharide and chimeric polymers. We show that a C6-sulfonated uridine diphospho (UDP)-glucose (Glc) derivative, sulfoquinovose, can be used as an uronic acid donor, but not as a hexosamine donor, to cap hyaluronan (HA) chains by the HA synthase from the microbe Pasteurella multocida. However, the two heparosan (HEP) synthases from the same species, PmHS1 and PmHS2, could not employ the UDP-sulfoquinovose under similar conditions. Serendipitously, we found that PmHS2 co-polymerized Glc with glucuronic acid (GlcA), creating a novel HEP-like polymer we named hepbiuronic acid [-4-GlcAβ1-4-Glcα1-]n. In addition, we created chimeric block polymers composed of both HA and HEP segments; in these reactions GlcA-, but not N-acetylglucosamine-(GlcNAc), terminated GAG acceptors were recognized by their noncognate synthase for further extension, likely due to the common β-linkage connecting GlcA to GlcNAc in both of these GAGs. Overall, these GAG constructs provide new tools for studying biology and offer potential for future sugar-based therapeutics.

Keywords: chemoenzymatic reaction; heparin; heparosan; hyaluronan; sulfation; synthase.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Disaccharides / chemistry
  • Glucuronic Acid / chemistry
  • Glycosaminoglycans / chemical synthesis
  • Glycosaminoglycans / chemistry*
  • Hyaluronic Acid / chemistry
  • Methylglucosides / chemistry
  • Sulfates / chemistry*
  • Uridine Diphosphate Glucose / chemistry


  • Disaccharides
  • Glycosaminoglycans
  • Methylglucosides
  • Sulfates
  • heparosan
  • sulfoquinovose
  • Glucuronic Acid
  • Hyaluronic Acid
  • Uridine Diphosphate Glucose