This study was designed to identify the specific proteoglycans and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) in the leaflets and chordae of the mitral valve and to interpret their presence in relation to the tensile and compressive loads borne by these tissues. Leaflets and chordae from normal human mitral valves (n = 31, obtained at autopsy) were weighed and selected portions digested using proteinase K, hyaluronidase, and chondroitinases. After fluorescent derivatization, fluorophore-assisted carbohydrate electrophoresis was used to separate and quantify the derivatized saccharides specific for each GAG type. In addition, the lengths of the chondroitin/dermatan sulfate chains were determined. Proteoglycans were identified by western blotting. The regions of the valve that experience tension, such as the chordae and the central portion of the anterior leaflet, contained less water, less hyaluronan, and mainly iduronate and 4-sulfated N-acetylgalactosamine with chain lengths of 50-70 disaccharides. These GAGs are likely associated with the small proteoglycans decorin and biglycan, which were found in abundance in the tensile regions. The valve regions that experience compression, such as the posterior leaflet and the free edge of the anterior leaflet, contained significantly more water, hyaluronan, and glucuronate and 6-sulfated N-acetylgalactosamine with chain lengths of 80-90 disaccharides. These GAGs are likely components of water-binding versican aggregates, which were abundant in the compressive loading regions. The relative amounts and distributions of these GAGs are therefore consistent with the tensile and compressive loads that these tissues bear. Finally, the concentrations of total GAGs and many different chondroitin/dermatan sulfate subclasses were significantly decreased with advancing age.
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