Afferent lymph vessels entering popliteal lymph nodes of sheep were infused with [3H]acetyl-labelled hyaluronan of high Mr (4.3 x 10(6)-5.5 x 10(6)) and low Mr (1.5 x 10(5)). Analysis of efferent lymph and of residues in the nodes showed that hyaluronan presented by this route is taken up and degraded by lymphatic tissue. Labelled residues isolated in node extracts by gel chromatography and h.p.l.c. included N-acetylglucosamine, acetate, water and a fraction provisionally identified as N-acetylglucosamine 6-phosphate. Between 48 and 75% of the infused material was unrecovered, and had been presumably eliminated through the bloodstream as diffusible residues. Rates of degradation reached as high as 43 micrograms/h in a node of 2 g wt. infused with 56 micrograms/h. Some HA passed into efferent lymph and some was detected in the nodes, but fractions of Mr greater than 1 x 10(6) were not found in either. It is concluded that the amounts and Mr values of hyaluronan released from the tissues into peripheral lymph can be significantly underestimated by analysis of efferent lymph, i.e. lymph that has passed through lymph nodes. A substantial role in the normal metabolic turnover of at least one major constituent of intercellular matrix and connective tissue may now be added to the established functions of the lymphatic system.

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