Heparin and HS (heparan sulfate) exert their wide range of biological activities by interacting with extracellular protein ligands. Among these important protein ligands are various angiogenic growth factors and cytokines. HS binding to VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) regulates multiple aspects of vascular development and function through its specific interaction with HS. Many studies have focused on HS-derived or HS-mimicking structures for the characterization of VEGF165 interaction with HS. Using a heparinase 1-prepared small library of heparin-derived oligosaccharides ranging from hexasaccharide to octadecasaccharide, we systematically investigated the heparin-specific structural features required for VEGF binding. We report the apparent affinities for the association between the heparin-derived oligosaccharides with both VEGF165 and VEGF55, a peptide construct encompassing exclusively the heparin-binding domain of VEGF165. An octasaccharide was the minimum size of oligosaccharide within the library to efficiently bind to both forms of VEGF and a tetradecasaccharide displayed an effective binding affinity to VEGF165 comparable to unfractionated heparin. The range of relative apparent binding affinities among VEGF and the panel of heparin-derived oligosaccharides demonstrate that the VEGF binding affinity likely depends on the specific structural features of these oligosaccharides, including their degree of sulfation, sugar-ring stereochemistry and conformation. Notably, the unique 3-O-sulfo group found within the specific antithrombin binding site of heparin is not required for VEGF165 binding. These findings afford new insight into the inherent kinetics and affinities for VEGF association with heparin and heparin-derived oligosaccharides with key residue-specific modifications and may potentially benefit the future design of oligosaccharide-based anti-angiogenesis drugs.

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