Degradation of connective-tissue polysaccharides with bacterial or fungal eliminases and subsequent characterization of the reaction products are now part of standard methodology for the analysis of these compounds. However, the scope of preparative and analytical work based on the use of eliminases has been limited by the lack of procedures for specific removal of the unsaturated uronic acid residues generated in the eliminase reactions. In the present investigation, we have shown that these residues are cleaved by mercuric salts under mild conditions that are not likely to affect other structures in an oligo- or poly-saccharide molecule. Thus the disaccharide generated from hyaluronic acid by digestion with chondroitinase AC or ABC was cleaved into a keto acid and free N-acetylglucosamine within 10 min at room temperature upon exposure to 14 mM-mercuric acetate at pH 5. The reaction of the disaccharide with mercuric salts was used for ready determination of the distribution of radioactivity between the glucuronic acid and N-acetylglucosamine moieties in radioactive hyaluronic acid that had been synthesized by IMR-90 fibroblasts from 3H-labelled monosaccharides. When the precursor was [3H]galactose, over 95% of the incorporated radioactivity was found in the glucuronic acid moiety. In contrast, cells grown in the presence of [3H]glucosamine synthesized a polysaccharide in which almost all of the label was located in the N-acetylglucosamine units. It is apparent from these experiments that the reaction of unsaturated uronic acid residues with mercuric salts provides a new tool with potential for many applications in the study of the structure and metabolism of connective-tissue polysaccharides.

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