Scale-Dependent Rheology of Synovial Fluid Lubricating Macromolecules

Leonardo Martin-Alarcon, Aleksandra Govedarica, Randy H. Ewoldt, Steven L. Bryant, Gregory D. Jay, Tannin A. Schmidt, Milana Trifkovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Synovial fluid (SF) is the complex biofluid that facilitates the exceptional lubrication of articular cartilage in joints. Its primary lubricating macromolecules, the linear polysaccharide hyaluronic acid (HA) and the mucin-like glycoprotein proteoglycan 4 (PRG4 or lubricin), interact synergistically to reduce boundary friction. However, the precise manner in which these molecules influence the rheological properties of SF remains unclear. This study aimed to elucidate this by employing confocal microscopy and multiscale rheometry to examine the microstructure and rheology of solutions containing recombinant human PRG4 (rhPRG4) and HA. Contrary to previous assumptions of an extensive HA-rhPRG4 network, it is discovered that rhPRG4 primarily forms stiff, gel-like aggregates. The properties of these aggregates, including their size and stiffness, are found to be influenced by the viscoelastic characteristics of the surrounding HA matrix. Consequently, the rheology of this system is not governed by a single length scale, but instead responds as a disordered, hierarchical network with solid-like rhPRG4 aggregates distributed throughout the continuous HA phase. These findings provide new insights into the biomechanical function of PRG4 in cartilage lubrication and may have implications in the development of HA-based therapies for joint diseases like osteoarthritis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • hyaluronan
  • interfacial rheology
  • microrheology
  • multi-scale rheology
  • optical tweezers
  • proteoglycan 4

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • General Chemistry
  • General Materials Science
  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials


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