Heparanase is an endo-β-D-glucuronidase capable of cleaving heparan sulfate (HS) side chains at a limited number of sites, yielding HS fragments of still appreciable size (∼5-7 kDa). Heparanase activity has long been detected in a number of cell types and tissues. Importantly, heparanase activity correlated with the metastatic potential of tumor-derived cells, attributed to enhanced cell dissemination as a consequence of HS cleavage and remodeling of the extracellular matrix barrier. Similarly, heparanase activity was implicated in neovascularization, inflammation and autoimmunity, involving migration of vascular endothelial cells and activated cells of the immune system. The involvement of heparanase in inflammatory processes of the gastrointestinal tract has not been examined. Here, we utilized immunohistochemical analysis to investigate heparanase expression in acute and chronic inflammatory conditions. Heparanase expression was not detected in specimens derived from normal colon tissue. In contrast, strong heparanase staining was observed in Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, but not in infectious colitis. Interestingly, heparanase staining was primarily observed in epithelial rather than immune cells. Importantly, un-fractionated as well as low molecular weight heparin (enoxaparin), which exhibit a strong inhibitory activity towards heparanase, have proven efficacious in ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease patients, suggesting that heparanase is actively involved in these pathologies and thus may be considered as a target for the development of anti-inflammatory therapies.
- Inflammatory bowel disease