Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The diagnostic role of glycosaminoglycans in pleural effusions: A pilot study

Rozina Vavetsi, Stefanos Bonovas, Paraskevi Polizou, Chrysanthi Papanastasopoulou, Georgia Dougekou and Nikolaos M Sitaras*

Author Affiliations

Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, University of Athens, Athens, Greece

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BMC Pulmonary Medicine 2009, 9:9  doi:10.1186/1471-2466-9-9

Published: 18 February 2009



Pleural effusions are classified into transudates and exudates. Various criteria have been used with Light's et al being the most accepted ones. Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) have been detected during pleural fluids (PF) analysis in various causes. In this pilot study, we investigated: (a) the usefulness of GAGs in the assessment of pleural effusions, and (b) whether and in what way GAGs correlate with established criteria used to indicate an exudate.


LDH, total protein, cholesterol and GAG levels were measured in pleural fluid and serum from 50 patients with pleural effusion. GAG levels were defined by the photometric method of Hata. The discriminative properties of pleural GAGs (pGAG), pleural fluid/serum GAG ratio (GAGR), serum GAGs (sGAG) and serum LDH (sLDH) were explored with ROC analysis.


According to ROC analysis, pGAG and GAGR exhibited satisfactory discriminative properties in the separation of pleural effusions. For GAGR, at a 1.1 cut off point, sensitivity and specificity reached 75.6%; 95%CI: 60.5–87.1 and 100%; 95%CI: 47.8–100, respectively. For pGAG at a cut off value of 8.4 μg/ml, these percentages changed to 86.7%; 95%CI: 73.2–94.9 and 100%; 95%CI: 47.8–100. The study also revealed the differential role of sGAG between malignancies and benign cases, scoring 68.8%; 95%CI: 50.0–83.9 for sensitivity, and 84.6%; 95%CI: 54.5–97.6 for specificity at a 7.8 μg/ml cut off.


Our results suggest that glycosaminoglycan measurement of both serum and pleural effusions could be useful for simultaneous differentiation of exudates from transudates, and of malignant from benign exudates.