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(myo͞o'kəpŏlēsăk`ərīd), class of polysaccharide molecules, also known as glycosaminoglycans, composed of amino-sugars chemically linked into repeating units that give a linear unbranched polymeric compound. The monomeric amino-sugar constituents are ordinary monosaccharides that contain a nitrogen atom covalently bound to one of the ring carbons of the sugar portion. The nitrogen is, in turn, either bonded to two atoms of hydrogen (termed a primary amino-group) or to another carbon atom (hence, a substituted amino-group). The mucopolysaccharides are quite similar structurally to the more well-known animal and plant polysaccharides such as glycogenglycogen
, starchlike polysaccharide (see carbohydrate) that is found in the liver and muscles of humans and the higher animals and in the cells of the lower animals. Chemically it is a highly branched condensation polymer of glucose; it is readily hydrolyzed to glucose.
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 and starchstarch,
white, odorless, tasteless, carbohydrate powder. It plays a vital role in the biochemistry of both plants and animals and has important commercial uses. In green plants starch is produced by photosynthesis; it is one of the chief forms in which plants store food.
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. Chitinchitin
, main constituent of the shells of arthropods. Chitin, a polysaccharide (see carbohydrate) analogous in chemical structure to cellulose, consists of units of a glucose derivative (N-acetyl-d
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 is a particularly plentiful mucopolysaccharide and serves, like cellulosecellulose,
chief constituent of the cell walls of plants. Chemically, it is a carbohydrate that is a high molecular weight polysaccharide. Raw cotton is composed of 91% pure cellulose; other important natural sources are flax, hemp, jute, straw, and wood.
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 does in plants, as a structural polysaccharide for many phyla of lower plants and animals. The shells of lobsters, crayfish, crabs, insects, and many other invertebrate organisms contain mostly chitin complexed with inorganic salts. The copepods, a group of microscopic marine organisms of the subphylum Crustacea, alone are considered to synthesize about 109 tons of chitin per year. Chitin is probably the second most abundant large organic compound on earth (the first being cellulose). Heparinheparin
, anticoagulant produced by cells in many animals. A polysaccharide, heparin is found in the human body and occurs in greatest concentration in the tissues surrounding the capillaries of the lungs and the liver.
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, an anticoagulant used widely in the treatment of blood clotting disorders, such as pulmonary embolus, is a mucopolysaccharide. Another important compound of this class is hyaluronic acid, a molecule found universally in the connective tissues of animals and in the fluids of their eyes and joints. Hyaluronic acid in association with protein has been isolated from various organisms, and such complexes are thought to bind water in the cellular spaces, thus holding cells together in a jellylike matrix. In addition, such substances may provide the fluids of joints with lubricating and shock-absorbing qualities. Many other mucopolysaccharides are, like hyaluronic acid, associated with proteins; the separation between such proteoglycans and glycoproteins is somewhat arbitrary, but the latter compounds are distinguished by their relative paucity of sugars.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a carbohydrate-protein polymer containing 70 to 80 percent carbohydrates. Most extensively studied have been the various types of acid mucopolysaccharides in connective tissue, in the synovia of the joints, and in the vitreous body of the eye.

The major types of mucopolysaccharides are hyaluronic acid, heparin, chondroitin sulfuric acids, and keratosulfate (found in cartilage and cornea). The carbohydrate portion of acid mucopolysaccharides is a linear polysaccharide consisting of periodically repeating units with N-sulfoaminosugar or N-acetylaminosugar residues (D-glucosamine or D-galactosamine) and uronic acid. The sulfuric acid residues in sulfate mucopolysaccharides are bound to the hydroxyl groups of monosaccharide components. Acid mucopolysaccharides differ widely in molecular weight, in binding energy of the components, and in functional properties.

Owing to their capacity to bind and hold water, acid mucopolysaccharides serve as a natural lubricant in the joints and impart elasticity to connective tissue. As a component of cartilage and ligaments, mucopolysaccharides are involved in support and motor functions. They also have bactericidal properties.

With aging, the composition of the mucopolysaccharides in connective tissue changes. Dysfunction in the mucopolysaccharide metabolism leads to a change in the composition of connective tissue and of the body fluids, resulting in diseases such as collagenosis, mucopolysaccharidosis, and rheumatism.


Stacey, M., and S. Barker. Uglevody zhivykh tkanei. Moscow, 1965. (Translated from English.)
Stepanenko, B. N. Uglevody: Uspekhi v izuchenii stroeniia i metabolizma. Moscow, 1968.
Kasavina, B. S., T. A. Kol’chinskii, and G. D. Zenkevich. “Mukopolisakharidy kostnoi i khriashchevoi tkani v norme i patologii.” Uspekhi sovremennoi biologii, 1970, vol. 69, issue 3.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Any of a group of polysaccharides containing an amino sugar and uronic acid; a constituent of mucoproteins, glycoproteins, and blood-group substances.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
Sections with a thickness of 5 [micro]m were obtained from each wax block on a Reichert-Jung Autocut 2040 microtome and were processed further using 3 different staining techniques: haematoxylin and eosin (H&E) to assess general vessel architecture; alcian blue pH 2.5-Periodic Schiff reactions (AB-PAS), for presence of neutral and acid mucopolysaccharides in the arterial wall; and Elastin von Gieson's (EVG) for morphology of elastic tissue, collagen fibres and smooth muscle throughout the vessel.
Fluidlike eosinophilic to occasionally basophilic secretions were less common, seen in 15% of cases as the predominant form of secretions, and in contrast to dense platelike secretions are histochemically acid mucopolysaccharide in nature (positive for Alcian blue [pH 2.5] and mucicarmine).
a-d) Attachment sites showed epithelial erosion and disorganized dermal collagenfibers (hematoxylin and eosin), e-f) increased goblet cells (stained blue) containing acid mucopolysaccharides or carbohydrates (Alcian blue), and g-h) increased melanophores (Transmission electron microscopy).
For the chondrogenic cultures, spherical micro-mass cultures were observed, and deposits of acid mucopolysaccharides were confirmed with Alcian blue staining as shown in Fig.