Heparin cofactor II: Discovery, properties, and role in controlling vascular homeostasis

Jill C. Rau, Jennifer W. Mitchell, Yolanda M. Fortenberry, Frank C. Church

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Heparin cofactor II (HCII) is a serine protease inhibitor (serpin) found in high concentrations in human plasma. Despite its discovery >30 years ago, its physiological function is still poorly understood. It is known to inhibit thrombin, the predominant coagulation protease, and HCII-thrombin complexes have been found in plasma, yet it is thought to contribute little to normal hemostasis. However, thrombin has several other physiological functions, and therefore many biological roles for HCII need consideration. The unique structure and mechanism of action of HCII have helped guide our understanding of HCII. In particular, HCII binds many glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) such as heparin and heparin sulfate as well as several different polyanions to enhance its inhibition of thrombin. Distinctly, HCII is able to use the GAG dermatan sulfate for accelerated thrombin inhibition. Dermatan sulfate is found in high concentrations in the walls of blood vessels as well as in placental tissue. This knowledge has led to research indicating that HCII may play a protective role in atherosclerosis and placental thrombosis. Additionally, pharmaceuticals are being developed that use the dermatan sulfate activation of HCII for anticoagulation. Although much research is still needed to fully understand HCII, this humble protein may have significant impact in our medical future. This article reviews the laboratory history, protein characteristics, structureactivity relationships, protease inhibition, physiological function, and medical relevance of HCII in hopes of regenerating interest in this sometimes forgotten serpin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)339-348
Number of pages10
JournalSeminars in Thrombosis and Hemostasis
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Heparin cofactor II
  • dermatan sulfate
  • heparin
  • serpin
  • thrombin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Heparin cofactor II: Discovery, properties, and role in controlling vascular homeostasis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this