Role of Heparan Sulfate N-sulfation in Mouse Embryonic Development

Abstract: Heparan sulfate (HS) is a sulfated glycosaminoglycan expressed by all cells in the body. It is found at the cell surface and in the extracellular matrix where it binds a large amount of various ligands including growth factors and morphogens. HS is important for building up morphogen gradients during embryonic development and to act as coreceptors for signaling molecules. Many different Golgi enzymes are involved in the biosynthesis of HS. It is known that some of these enzymes interact with each other but not how the whole biosynthesis machinery works or how the cell regulates the structure of the HS that it produces. In this thesis, cells and mice deficient in two of these biosynthetic enzymes, glucosaminyl N-deacetylase/N-sulfotransferase-1 (NDST1) and the isoform NDST2 have been studied. NDSTs perform the first modifications during biosynthesis where they replace N-acetyl groups on N-acetyl-glucosamine units with sulfate groups. It is known that deficiency of NDST1 is lethal, while lack of NDST2 only results in abnormal connective tissue type mast cells. Here it is shown that deficiency of both NDST1 and NDST2 is embryonically lethal. The embryonic stem (ES) cells extracted from the inner cell mass of double knockout blastocysts show in addition an impaired differentiation capacity compared to wild-type ES cells and fail completely to differentiate into cardiac muscle cells which NDST1-/-, NDST2-/- and wild-type ES cells all do. Cultured mast cells that lack NDST2 produce heparin that is low-sulfated compared to wild-type HS. To our surprise, we could show that mast cells deficient in NDST1 instead produce a more highly sulfated heparin than wild-type cells. We use a model that predicts that the biosynthesis enzymes work together in a multienzyme complex, the GAGosome, to explain our results. We hypothesize that NDST1 has a higher affinity for the GAGosome than NDST2 which only in the absence of NDST1 gets incorporated into the enzyme complex. When all GAGosomes contain NDST2, a more highly sulfated glycosaminoglycan chain will be synthesized. A splice variant of NDST1, NDST1S, has also been studied. We could show that NDST1S lacks enzyme activity but that it probably has the capacity to incorporate into GAGosomes. Overexpression of NDST1S results in altered structure of the HS produced by the cells. We speculate that expression of the splice variant during development may be one way to regulate HS structure.