Describe heparin’s interaction with antithrombin. Why is the anti-FXa method a better way to measure heparin activity?

Slow protease-antithrombin interactions are enhanced dramatically in the presence of certain sulfated polysaccharides like heparan sulfate. Heparin is a commercial preparation of heparan sulfate, and binds antithrombin, the major inhibitor of coagulation in plasma and thrombin, thereby catalyzing the thrombin-AT reaction. Binding to antithrombin induces a conformational change in AT that facilitates its reaction with thrombin. Thrombin binds to heparin in a non-specific manner and slides along the chain until it encounters the bound AT. The affinity of heparin to the thrombin-AT (TAT) complex is much lower than to free AT. Heparin will therefore dissociate from the TAT complex, which is rapidly removed from the blood circulation by the liver and the result is a stable protease inhibitor complex, which is rapidly removed and catabolized. The anti-FXa assays are more specific since they measure the ability of heparin-accelerated antithrombin to inhibit a single enzyme. Either plasma or purified AT can be used. More precise determination of unfractionated heparin and low molecular weight heparin are possible.