1. Urinary glycosaminoglycans were recovered from the papain digest of polyanions precipitated sequentially by cetylpyridinium chloride and sodium acetate-saturated ethanol. Those from the early morning urine of 48 stone formers and 43 normal control subjects measured 11 and 16 μg of uronic acid/ml of urine, respectively.

2. Preparative agarose gel electrophoresis of the recovered glycosaminoglycans in barium acetate buffer (pH 5.8) yielded fractions containing purely chondroitin sulphate, co-polymeric chondroitin/dermatan sulphates and heparan sulphate. Identification was based on the susceptibility of the fractions to chondroitinase or nitrous acid treatment. Similar compositions of glycosaminoglycan classes were observed in samples from stone formers and normal control subjects.

3. The fractionated glycosaminoglycans were dissolved in urine ultrafiltrate to assay for nucleation-promoting and growth-inhibiting activities towards crystallization of urinary calcium oxalate. When compared at the same uronic acid concentration, both the urinary chondroitin sulphate isomers and heparan sulphates of stone formers demonstrated the capacity to enhance crystal nucleation from calcium oxalate endogenous in urine ultrafiltrates, whereas only urinary heparan sulphates of normal control subjects demonstrated this capacity.

4. Tissue-derived reference chondroitin sulphate, dermatan sulphate and heparin, when similarly tested, showed negligible crystal nucleation-promoting activity. The tissue-derived heparan sulphate was similar to the urinary heparan sulphates in showing marked crystal nucleation-promoting activity.

5. Crystal-growth inhibitory activity was evident in all urinary glycosaminoglycan fractions studied. In particular, urinary heparan sulphate of normal control subjects showed higher activity than that of stone formers or the chondroitin sulphate isomers of both stone formers and normal control subjects (P <0.005).

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