Heparin is a sulphated glycosaminoglycan derived from mast cells and has a number of functions including the inhibition of proliferation in several cell types and interactions with a range of heparin-binding growth factors. We report that heparin is a trophic factor in primary cultures of rat small intestinal epithelium. Heparin elicits a dose-dependent increase in epithelial proliferation and inhibits the growth of associated mesenchyme. The trophic effect of this molecule is not reproduced by other glycosaminoglycans including heparan sulphate but is dependent upon extensive molecular sulphation. Highly sulphated polysaccharides that are structurally unrelated to heparin (e.g. dextran sulphate and pentosan polysulphate) also stimulate epithelial proliferation in primary cultures. Heparin may act by the potentiation of mesenchyme-derived heparin-binding growth factors and these data suggest an in vivo role for mast cell-derived heparin in mucosal wound regeneration.

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