Annual review of analytical chemistry (Palo Alto, Calif.)

Heparin characterization: challenges and solutions.

PMID 21469955


Although heparin is an important and widely prescribed pharmaceutical anticoagulant, its high degree of sequence microheterogeneity and size polydispersity make molecular-level characterization challenging. Unlike nucleic acids and proteins that are biosynthesized through template-driven assembly processes, heparin and the related glycosaminoglycan heparan sulfate are actively remodeled during biosynthesis through a series of enzymatic reactions that lead to variable levels of O- and N-sulfonation and uronic acid epimers. As summarized in this review, heparin sequence information is determined through a bottom-up approach that relies on depolymerization reactions, size- and charge-based separations, and sensitive mass spectrometric and nuclear magnetic resonance experiments to determine the structural identity of component oligosaccharides. The structure-elucidation process, along with its challenges and opportunities for future analytical improvements, is reviewed and illustrated for a heparin-derived hexasaccharide.