We have previously shown that treatment of neonatal human articular-cartilage proteoglycan aggregates with H2O2 results in loss of the ability of the proteoglycan subunits to interact with hyaluronic acid and in fragmentation of the link proteins [Roberts, Mort & Roughley (1987) Biochem. J. 247, 349-357]. We now show the following. (1) Hyaluronic acid in proteoglycan aggregates is also fragmented by treatment with H2O2. (2) Although H2O2 treatment results in loss of the ability of the proteoglycan subunits to interact with hyaluronic acid, the loss of this function is not attributable to substantial cleavage of the hyaluronic acid-binding region of the proteoglycan subunits. (3) In contrast, link proteins retain the ability to bind to hyaluronic acid following treatment with H2O2. (4) The interaction between the proteoglycan subunit and link protein is, however, abolished. (5) N-Terminal sequence analysis of the first eight residues of the major product of link protein resulting from H2O2 treatment revealed that cleavage occurred between residues 13 and 14, so that the new N-terminal amino acid is alanine. (6) In addition, a histidine (residue 16) is converted into alanine and an asparagine (residue 21) is converted into aspartate by the action of H2O2. (7) Rat link protein showed no cleavage or modifications in similar positions under identical conditions. (8) This species variation may be related to the different availability of histidine residues required for the co-ordination of the transition metal ion involved in hydroxyl-radical generation from H2O2. (9) Changes in function of these structural macromolecules as a result of the action of H2O2 may be consequences of both fragmentation and chemical modification.

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