The glycosaminoglycan (heparan sulfate) component of glomerular basement membranes from human kidneys of diabetic and nondiabetic subjects has been quantitated after isolation from protease digests of the membranes on OEAE-cellulose microcolumns. A significant decrease (P < 0.005) in the glycosaminoglycan content of diabetic membranes was observed. Heparan sulfate was identified as the predominant glycosaminoglycan in both diabetic and control subjects and the extent of its sulfation appeared to be similar. The reduced level of glycosaminoglycan in the diabetic glomerular basement membrane was accompanied by a significant elevation of hexoses, which are primarily associated with the collagen component, suggesting that a redistribution of basement membrane macromolecules occurs in the diabetic state. Since heparan sulfate has been implicated as a major component of the glomerular anionic filtration barrier, its decreased content in diabetic basement membranes may contribute to the proteinuria observed in this disease.

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