We have previously shown that heparin is a potent inhibitor of a mammalian DNA topoisomerase I. We have now investigated the mechanism of its inhibition. This was carried out first by scrutinizing the structural features of heparin molecules responsible for the inhibition. Commercial heparin preparation was fractionated by antithrombin III-Sepharose into non-adsorbed, low-affinity and high-affinity fractions, of which only the high-affinity fraction of heparin is known to contain a specific oligosaccharide sequence responsible for the binding to antithrombin III. These fractions all exhibited essentially similar inhibitory activities. Furthermore, when chemically sulphated to an extent comparable with or higher than heparin, otherwise inactive glycosaminoglycans such as heparan sulphate, chondroitin 4-sulphate, dermatan sulphate and neutral polysaccharides such as dextran and amylose were converted into potent inhibitors. Sulphated dermatan sulphate, one of the model compounds, was further shown to bind competitively to the same sites on the enzyme as heparin. These observations strongly suggested that topoisomerase inhibition by heparin is attributable primarily, if not entirely, to the highly sulphated polyanionic nature of the molecules. In a second series of experiments we examined whether heparin inhibits only one or both of the topoisomerase reactions, i.e. nicking and re-joining. It was demonstrated that both reactions were inhibited by heparin, but the nicking reaction was more severely affected than was the re-joining reaction.

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