The underlying mechanisms responsible for both cartilage loss and subchondral bone changes in osteoarthritis (OA) remain unknown. It is becoming recognized that the extracellular matrix influences the metabolism of cells both in vivo and in vitro and can modify their responses to external stimuli. Indeed, the glycosaminoglycan/proteoglycan matrix is of major importance for the proliferation and/or differentiation of a number of cells. Here, we determined the potential role of hyaluronic acid (HA) of increasing molecular weight (MW) to alter the expression of metabolic markers and cytokine production by human osteoarthritic (OA) subchondral osteoblasts (Ob). Both 1,25(OH)(2)D(3)-induced alkaline phosphatase activity (ALPase) and osteocalcin release were increased in OA Ob when compared to normal. HA reduced osteocalcin release in OA Ob at MW of 300 and above, whereas HA failed to significantly modify ALPase. Parathyroid hormone (PTH) stimulated cyclic AMP (cAMP) formation by OA Ob. HA had a biphasic effect on this PTH-dependent activity, totally inhibiting cAMP formation at MW of 300 and 800. HA of increasing MW progressively reduced the levels of Prostaglandin E(2) (PGE(2)) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) produced by OA Ob. Interestingly, urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA) and and PA inhibitor-1 (PAI-1) levels were not significantly affected by HA of increasing MW; however, the PAI-1 to uPA ratio showed a slight, yet nonsignificant increase. Surprisingly, uPA activity was increased in OA Ob under the same conditions. Last, HA had no effect on the production of insulin-like growth factor-1 by these cells. Our data suggest that high MW HA can modify cellular parameters in OA Ob that are increased when compared to normal. The effect of HA on inflammatory mediators, such as PGE(2) and IL-6, and on uPA activity is more striking at higher MW as well. Taken together, these results could suggest that HA of increasing MW has positive effects on OA Ob by modifying their biological synthetic capacities.