Altered proteoglycan metabolism may play a role in the development of diabetic glomerulopathy. This study was conducted to examine the effects of glucose on the production and physical characteristics of proteoglycans generated by rat mesangial cells in culture. Rat mesangial cells were exposed to elevated glucose media (500 mg/dl) or standard glucose media (200 mg/dl) for 8–10 days, and proteoglycan synthesis was determined using 35S-labeling in conjunction with anion exchange and sizing chromatography. Rat mesangial cells generated predominantly chondroitin/dermatan sulfate proteoglycans, with small amounts of heparan sulfate proteoglycans. High glucose did not alter the number of rat mesangial cells after 24 h or after 8–10 days, compared with cells grown under standard glucose conditions. The total amount of glycosaminoglycan generated and the sizes of the major proteoglycans were not different between cultures grown in standard and elevated glucose medium. Levels of mRNA for the proteoglycan, biglycan (as assessed by Northern blot analysis), also were comparable between the standard and elevated glucose conditions. Exposure to media high in glucose did not change the rate of secretion of proteoglycans from the cell layer to the medium, but did result in a greater quantity of radiolabeled proteoglycan deposited in the extracellular matrix. The cell, extracellular matrix and medium proteoglycans isolated from the elevated glucose cultures, consistently eluted from the anion exchange column at a lower [NaCl] compared with those generated under standard glucose conditions, indicating a loss of anionic charges. We conclude that exposure of rat mesangial cells to media high in glucose results in a greater amount of labeled proteoglycan deposited in the extracellular matrix. These proteoglycans are the same size but have a lower charge density than those generated under standard glucose conditions.

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