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Borrelia burgdorferi, the
Lyme disease agent, binds glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) such as heparin, heparan sulfate, and dermatan sulfate. Heparin or heparan sulfate fractions separated by size or charge were tested for their ability to inhibit attachment of B. burgdorferi to Vero cells. GAG chains of increasing length and/or charge showed increasing inhibitory potency, and detectable heparin inhibition of bacterial binding required a minimum of 16 residues. The ability of a given heparin fraction to inhibit binding to Vero cells was strongly predictive of its ability to inhibit hemagglutination, suggesting that hemagglutination reflects the capacity of B. burgdorferi to bind to GAGs.