Lubricin and hyaluronic acid (HA), molecular constituents of synovial fluid, have long been theorized to play a role in joint lubrication and wear protection. While lubricin has been shown to function as a boundary lubricant, conflicting evidence exists as to the boundary lubricating ability of hyaluronic acid. Here, we use colloidal force microscopy to explore the friction behavior of these two molecules on the microscale between chemically uniform hydrophilic (hydroxyl-terminated) and hydrophobic (methyl-terminated) surfaces in physiological buffer solution. Behaviors on both surfaces are physiologically relevant since the heterogeneous articular cartilage surface contains both hydrophilic and hydrophobic elements. Friction between hydrophobic surfaces was initially high (μ= 1.1, at 100 nN of applied normal load) and was significantly reduced by lubricin addition while friction between hydrophilic surfaces was initially low (μ= 0.1) and was slightly increased by lubricin addition. At lubricin concentrations above 200 g/ml, friction behavior on the two surfaces was similar (μ= 0.2) indicating that nearly all interaction between the two surfaces was between adsorbed lubricin molecules rather than between the surfaces themselves. In contrast, addition of HA did not appreciably alter the frictional behavior between the model surfaces. No synergistic effect on friction behavior was seen in a physiological mixture of lubricin and HA. Lubricin can equally mediate the frictional response between both hydrophilic and hydrophobic surfaces, likely fully preventing direct surface-to-surface contact at sufficient concentrations, whereas HA provides considerably less boundary lubrication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3438-3445
Number of pages8
JournalSoft Matter
Issue number18
StatePublished - 2009


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