Heparin, a member of a family of molecules called glycosaminoglycans, is biosynthesized in mucosal mast cells. This important anticoagulant polysaccharide is primarily produced by extraction of the mast cell-rich intestinal mucosa of hogs. There is concern about our continued ability to supply sufficient heparin to support the worldwide growth of advanced medical procedures from the static population of adult hogs used as food animals. While the intestinal mucosa of adult pigs is rich in anticoagulant heparin (containing a few hundred milligrams per animal), little is known about how the content of heparin changes with animal age. Using sophisticated mass spectral analysis we discovered that heparin was largely absent from the intestinal mucosa of piglets. Moreover, while the related, nonanticoagulant heparan sulfate glycosaminoglycan was present in significant amounts we found little chondroitin sulfate E also associated with mast cells. Histological evaluation of piglet intestinal mucosa showed a very low mast cell content. Respiratory mast cells have been reported in baby pigs suggesting that there was something unique about the piglets used in the current study. These piglets were raised in the relatively clean environment of a university animal facility and treated with antibiotics over their lifetime resulting in a depleted microbiome that greatly reduced the number of mast cells and heparin content of the intestinal mucosal in these animals. Thus, from the current study it remains unclear whether the lack of intestinal mast cellderived heparin results from the young age of these animals or their exposure to their depleted microbiome.
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