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Biophys J. 2003 Sep;85(3):1996-2005.

Organization and adhesive properties of the hyaluronan pericellular coat of chondrocytes and epithelial cells.

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Department of Molecular Cell Biology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel.


Hyaluronan is a megadalton glycosaminoglycan composed of repeating units of D-N-acetylglucosamine-beta-D-Glucuronic acid. It is known to form a highly hydrated pericellular coat around chondrocytes, fibrosarcoma, and smooth muscle cells. Using environmental scanning electron microscopy we detected fully hydrated hyaluronan pericellular coats around rat chondrocytes (RCJ-P) and epithelial cells (A6). Hyaluronan mediates early adhesion of both chondrocytes and A6 cells to glass surfaces. We show that chondrocytes in suspension establish early "soft contacts" with the substrate through a thick, hyaluronidase-sensitive coat (4.4 +/- 0.7 microm). Freshly-attached cells drift under shear stress, leaving hyaluronan "footprints" on the surface. This suggests that chondrocytes are surrounded by a multilayer of entangled hyaluronan molecules. In contrast, A6 cells have a 2.2 +/- 0.4- microm-thick hyaluronidase-sensitive coat, do not drift under shear stress, and remain firmly anchored to the surface. We consider the possibility that in A6 cells single hyaluronan molecules, spanning the whole thickness of the pericellular coat, mediate these tight contacts.

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