Heparan sulphate (HS) is an essential co-receptor for a number of growth factors, morphogens and adhesion proteins. The biosynthetic modifications involved in the generation of a mature HS chain may determine the strength and outcome of HS–ligand interactions. These modifications are catalysed by a complex family of enzymes, some of which occur as multiple gene products. Various mutant mice have now been generated, which lack the function of isolated components of the HS biosynthetic pathway. In this discussion, we outline the key findings of these studies, and use them to put into context our own work concerning the structure of the HS generated by the Hs2st-/- mice.

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