Polymer Engineering Faculty Research

The Boundary Lubrication of Chemically Grafted and Cross-Linked Hyaluronic Acid in Phosphate Buffered Saline and Lipid Solutions Measured by the Surface Forces Apparatus

Younjin Min, The University of Akron


High molecular weight hyaluronic acid (HA) is present in articular joints and synovial fluid at high concentrations; yet despite numerous studies, the role of HA in joint lubrication is still not clear. Free HA in solution does not appear to be a good lubricant, being negatively charged and therefore repelled from most biological, including cartilage, surfaces. Recent enzymatic experiments suggested that mechanically or physically (rather than chemically) trapped HA could function as an “adaptive” or “emergency” boundary lubricant to eliminate wear damage in shearing cartilage surfaces. In this work, HA was chemically grafted to a layer of self-assembled amino-propyl-triethoxy-silane (APTES) on mica and then cross-linked. The boundary lubrication behavior of APTES and of chemically grafted and cross-linked HA in both electrolyte and lipid 1,2-dioleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (DOPC) solutions was tested with a surface forces apparatus (SFA). Despite the high coefficient of friction (COF) of μ ≈ 0.50, the chemically grafted HA gel significantly improved the lubrication behavior of HA, particularly the wear resistance, in comparison to free HA. Adding more DOPC lipid to the solution did not improve the lubrication of the chemically grafted and cross-linked HA layer. Damage of the underlying mica surface became visible at higher loads (pressure >2 MPa) after prolonged sliding times. It has generally been assumed that damage caused by or during sliding, also known as “abrasive friction”, which is the main biomedical/clinical/morphological manifestation of arthritis, is due to a high friction force and, therefore, a large COF, and that to prevent surface damage or wear (abrasion) one should therefore aim to reduce the COF, which has been the traditional focus of basic research in biolubrication, particularly in cartilage and joint lubrication. Here we combine our results with previous ones on grafted and cross-linked HA on lipid bilayers, and lubricin-mediated lubrication, and conclude that for cartilage surfaces, a high COF can be associated with good wear protection, while a low COF can have poor wear resistance. Both of these properties depend on how the lubricating molecules are attached to and organized at the surfaces, as well as the structure and mechanical, viscoelastic, elastic, and physical properties of the surfaces, but the two phenomena are not directly or simply related. We also conclude that to provide both the low COF and good wear protection of joints under physiological conditions, some or all of the four major components of joints—HA, lubricin, lipids, and the cartilage fibrils—must act synergistically in ways (physisorbed, chemisorbed, grafted and/or cross-linked) that are still to be determined.