Insight into the assembly of lipid-hyaluronan complexes in osteoarthritic conditions

Interactions between molecules in the synovial fluid and the cartilage surface may play a vital role in the formation of adsorbed films that contribute to the low friction of cartilage boundary lubrication. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common degenerative joint disease. Previous studies have shown that in OA-diseased joints, hyaluronan (HA) not only breaks down resulting in a much lower molecular weight (MW), but also its concentration is reduced ten times. Here, we have investigated the structural changes of lipid-HA complexes as a function of HA concentration and MW to simulate the physiologically relevant conditions that exist in healthy and diseased joints. Small angle neutron scattering and dynamic light scattering were used to determine the structure of HA-lipid vesicles in bulk solution, while a combination of atomic force microscopy and quartz crystal microbalance was applied to study their assembly on a gold surface. We infer a significant influence of both MW and HA concentrations on the structure of HA-lipid complexes in bulk and assembled on a gold surface.

Our results suggest that low MW HA cannot form an amorphous layer on the gold surface, which is expected to negatively impact the mechanical integrity and longevity of the boundary layer and could contribute to the increased wear of the cartilage that has been reported in joints diseased with OA.