The ability of heparin or that of hexuronyl hexosaminoglycan sulfate (HHS-4) to protect basic or acidic fibroblast growth factor (FGF) from acid or heat inactivation has been analyzed. Both freshly prepared basic and acidic FGF stimulate the growth of baby hamster kidney (BHK-21) cells exposed to medium supplemented with transferrin and insulin. Freshly prepared basic FGF was 10 fold more potent than acidic FGF. The addition of heparin to the medium decreased the potency of basic FGF while it potentiated that of acidic FGF. Upon storage of FGF at -80 degrees C, a decline in potency of both basic and acidic FGF was observed. Heparin, when added to the medium, potentiated their activities, which became similar to that of freshly prepared basic FGF. In order to test whether heparin could protect basic or acidic FGF from inactivation, both mitogens were exposed to acid conditions (1% trifluoroacetic acid, pH 1.08, 2 h) or heat (65 degrees C, 5 min) which inactivate basic or acidic FGF. When exposed to such treatment in the presence of heparin or HHS-4, basic and acidic FGF retained their potency. The effect of heparin and HHS-4 on the bioactivity of basic and acidic FGF is truly of a protective nature, since they had no effect when added after inactivation of the mitogens. Potentiation of the bioactivity of the protected mitogens or of the inactivated one could only be observed when cells were exposed to high heparin or HHS-4 concentrations. This indicates that heparin and HHS-4, in addition to protecting FGF from inactivation, also acts at another locus, as yet unidentified.
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