Hyaluronan (or hyaluronic acid, HA) is an essential component of extracellular matrices. It interacts with other macromolecules and plays a predominant role in tissue morphogenesis, cell migration, differentiation, and adhesion. The cell signaling functions of HA are mediated through the CD-44 receptor and are dependent upon the molecular weight of the polymer. We hypothesized that an HA of appropriate molecular weight alone in optimal concentration may induce osteoblast differentiation and bone formation. Enzyme-digested calvarial-derived mesenchymal cells from 2-day-old newborn rats were cultured with the addition of HA of three different molecular weights (2300, 900, and 60 kDa). We added, 0.5, 1.0, and 2.0 mg/mL HA for each molecular weight to the medium at the first plating of cells. After 7 to 20 days in culture, cell proliferation and differentiation were evaluated by measuring thymidine incorporation, alkaline phosphatase activity, and osteocalcin gene expression. The effects of HA on bone formation were examined by using Alizarin red staining for mineralization. The results showed that low molecular weight HA (60 kDa) significantly stimulated cell growth, increased osteocalcin mRNA expression in a dose-dependent manner, but showed no apparent effects on alkaline phosphatase activity and bone mineralization. On the other hand, high-weight HA (900 and 2,300 kDa) significantly increased all the parameters examined, particularly alkaline phosphatase activity, in a dose-dependent manner and stimulated cell mineralization to 126% and 119% of the controls, respectively, in the 1.0 mg/mL dose. Our findings suggest that HA has a molecular weight-specific and dose-specific mode of action that may enhance the osteogenic and osteoinductive properties of bone graft materials and substitutes due to its stimulatory effects on osteoblasts.
Copyright 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.