A number of reports point to the presence of proteoglycans and/or glycosaminoglycans within elastic fibers in normal and in pathological conditions. We present data that heparan sulphate (HS)-containing proteoglycans are associated with normal elastic fibers in human dermis and that isolated HS chains interact in vitro with recombinant tropoelastin and with peptides encoded by distinct exons of the human tropoelastin gene (EDPs). By immunocytochemistry, HS chains were identified as associated with the amorphous elastin component in the human dermis and remained associated with the residual elastin in the partially degenerated fibers of old subjects. HS appeared particularly concentrated in the mineralization front of elastic fibers in the dermis of patients affected by pseudoxanthoma elasticum (PXE). In in vitro experiments, HS induced substantial changes in the coacervation temperature and in the aggregation properties of recombinant tropoelastin and of synthetic peptides (EDPs) corresponding to sequences encoded by exons 18, 20, 24 and 30 of the human tropoelastin gene. In particular, HS modified the coacervation temperature and favoured the aggregation into ordered structures of tropoelastin molecules and of EDPs 18, 20 and 24, but not of EDP30. These data strongly indicate that HS-elastin interactions may play a role in tissue elastin fibrogenesis as well as modulating elastin stability with time and in diseases.
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