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Biomacromolecules. 2011 Oct 10;12(10):3432-43. doi: 10.1021/bm2004912. Epub 2011 Sep 1.

Articular cartilage proteoglycans as boundary lubricants: structure and frictional interaction of surface-attached hyaluronan and hyaluronan--aggrecan complexes.

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  • 1Department of Materials and Interfaces, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel.


Mammalian synovial joints are extremely efficient lubrication systems reaching friction coefficient μ as low as 0.001 at high pressures (up to 100 atm) and shear rates (up to 10(6) to 10(7) Hz); however, despite much previous work, the exact mechanism responsible for this behavior is still unknown. In this work, we study the molecular mechanism of synovial joint lubrication by emulating the articular cartilage superficial zone structure. Macromolecules extracted and purified from bovine hip joints using well-known biochemical techniques and characterized with atomic force microscope (AFM) have been used to reconstruct a hyaluronan (HA)--aggrecan layer on the surface of molecularly smooth mica. Aggrecan forms, with the help of link protein, supramolecular complexes with the surface-attached HA similar to those at the cartilage/synovial fluid interface. Using a surface force balance (SFB), normal and shear interactions between a HA--aggrecan-coated mica surface and bare mica have been examined, focusing, in particular, on the frictional forces. In each stage, control studies have been performed to ensure careful monitoring of the macromolecular surface layers. We found the aggrecan--HA complex to be a much better boundary lubricant than the HA alone, an effect attributed largely to the fluid hydration sheath bound to the highly charged glycosaminoglycan (GAG) segments on the aggrecan core protein. A semiquantitative model of the osmotic pressure is used to describe the normal force profiles between the surfaces and interpret the boundary lubrication mechanism of such layers.

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