The chemical composition and the 13C n.m.r. spectra of heparin oligosaccharides (essentially octasaccharides), having high affinity for antithrombin III and high anti-(Factor Xa) activity, prepared by three independent approaches (extraction, partial deaminative cleavage with HNO2 and partial depolymerization with bacterial heparinase), leading to different terminal residues, have been studied and compared with those of the corresponding inactive species. Combined wit chemical data, the spectra of the active oligosaccharides and of their fragmentation products afforded information on composition and sequence. The three types of active oligosaccharides were shown to have the common hexasaccharide core I-Aa-G-As*-Is-As, where I and alpha-L-idopyranosyl-uronic acid, Aa = 2-acetamido-2-deoxy-alpha-D-glucopyranose, G = beta-D-glucopyranosyl-uronic acid, Is = alpha-L-idopyranosyluronic acid 2-O-sulphate, As = 2-deoxy-2-sulphamino-alpha-D-glucopyranose 6-O-sulphate. The fourth residue (As*) is an unusually substituted amino sugar resistant to mild deamination. The 13C spectra of the active species are characterized by signals from the above atypical amino sugar, the most evident of which is at 57.7 p.p.m. These signals, compared with those of appropriate synthetic model compounds, are compatible with the recently proposed 3-O-sulphation of the residue As* [Lindahl, Bäckström, Thunberg & Leder (1980) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 77, 6551-6555].

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