In this study we examined the effect of experimental diabetes and of treatment with an aldose reductase inhibitor on the level of sulfation of glomerular basement membrane (GBM) heparan sulfate, the principal glycosaminoglycan in this extracellular matrix. Glycosaminoglycans were isolated from GBM purified from control, streptozocin-induced diabetic, and sorbinil-treated diabetic rats and analyzed for sulfate and uronate content. Glomerular yields from diabetic kidneys were greater than those from control animals, but the amount of sulfate per glomerulus in diabetic samples, both untreated and sorbinil treated, did not differ significantly from that in control samples. However, the sulfate-to-uronate ratio in heparan sulfate isolated from diabetic GBM (0.34 ± 0.08) was significantly less than in control samples (0.69 ± 0.11), and treatment of diabetic rats with an aldose reductase inhibitor did not correct this reduced ratio (0.36 ± 0.06). The results indicate that there is an undersulfation of heparan sulfate of GBM in experimental diabetes, an abnormality that may contribute to loss of anionie sites and decreased charge selectivity of the glomerular filtration barrier. The findings further suggest that this abnormality results from disturbances in glycosaminoglycan synthesis and/or metabolism in diabetes that are independent of polyol-pathway activation in the renal glomerulus.

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