Lubrication of cartilage involves a variety of physical and chemical factors, including lubricin, a synovial glycoprotein that has been shown to be a boundary lubricant. It is unclear how lubricin boundary lubricates a wide range of bearings from tissue to artificial surfaces, and if the mechanism is the same for both soluble and bound lubricin. In the current study, experiments were conducted to investigate the hypothesis that recombinant human lubricin (rh-lubricin) lubricates cartilage in a dose-dependent manner and that soluble and bound fractions of rh-lubricin both contribute to the lubrication process. An rh-lubricin dose response was observed with maximal lubrication achieved at concentrations of rh-lubricin greater than 50 µg/mL. A concentration–response variable-slope model was fit to the data, and indicated that rh-lubricin binding to cartilage was not first order. The pattern of decrease in equilibrium friction coefficient indicated that aggregation of rh-lubricin or steric arrangement may regulate boundary lubrication. rh-lubricin localized at the cartilage surface was found to lubricate a cartilage–glass interface in boundary mode, as did soluble rh-lubricin at high concentrations (150 µg/mL); however, the most effective lubrication occurred when both soluble and bound rh-lubricin were present at the interface. These findings point to two distinct mechanisms by which rh-lubricin lubricates, one mechanism involving lubricin bound to the tissue surface and the other involving lubricin in solution.
cartilage friction; recombinant lubricin; proteoglycan 4 (PRG4); cartilage lubrication; superficial zone protein (SZP)