Rabbit lens epithelial cells synthesize and secrete a variety of [35S]sulphate-labeled glycoconjugates in vitro. Associated with the cell layer, and with the medium, was a high molecular weight glycoconjugate(s) that contained heparan sulphate which was apparently covalently linked to sulphated glycoprotein. This component(s) was eluted in the void volume of a Sepharose CL-2B column and could not be fractionated by detergent treatment or extraction with lipid solvents. The cell layer also contained glycosaminoglycans (72% heparan sulphate, 28% chondroitin sulphate), as well as a small proportion of a low molecular weight sulphated glycoprotein. The major 35S-labeled species secreted into the medium were sulphated glycoproteins with approximate molecular weights of 120,000 and 35,000 together with a heparan sulphate proteoglycan. This proteoglycan could be precipitated from the culture medium with 30% saturated (NH4)2SO4 and eluted from Sepharose CL-4B columns at approximately the same position (Kav = 0.15) as heparan sulphate proteoglycans described in the basement membrane of the EHS "sarcoma" (Hassell, J. R., P. G. Robey, H. J. Barrach, J. Wilczek, S. I. Rennard, and G. R. Martin, 1980, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 77:4494-4498) and of the mouse mammary epithelium (David, G., and M. Bernfield, 1981, J. Cell Biol., 91:281-286). Its presence in the culture medium was unanticipated but may be explained by the inability of these cultures to deposit a basement membrane when grown on a plastic surface. The relationship of this heparan sulphate proteoglycan to the lens epithelial basement membrane is the subject of the following paper.

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