Hyaluronan (hyaluronic acid) is a high-molecular-mass polysaccharide found in the extracellular matrix, especially of soft connective tissues. It is synthesized in the plasma membrane of fibroblasts and other cells by addition of sugars to the reducing end of the polymer, whereas the nonreducing end protrudes into the pericellular space. The polysaccharide is catabolized locally or carried by lymph to lymph nodes or the general circulation, from where it is cleared by the endothelial cells of the liver sinusoids. The overall turnover rate is surprisingly rapid for a connective tissue matrix component (t1/2 0.5 to a few days). Hyaluronan has been assigned various physiological functions in the intercellular matrix, e.g., in water and plasma protein homeostasis. Hyaluronan production increases in proliferating cells and the polymer may play a role in mitosis. Extensive hyaluronidase-sensitive coats have been identified around mesenchymal cells. They are either anchored firmly in the plasma membrane or bound via hyaluronan-specific binding proteins (receptors). Such receptors have now been identified on many different cells, e.g., the lymphocyte homing receptor CD 44. Interaction between a hyaluronan receptor and extracellular polysaccharide has been connected with locomotion and cell migration. Hyaluronan seems to play an important role during development and differentiation and has other cell regulatory activities. Hyaluronan has also been recognized in clinical medicine. A concentrated solution of hyaluronan (10 mg/ml) has, through its tissue protective and rheological properties, become a device in ophthalmic surgery. Analysis of serum hyaluronan is promising in the diagnosis of liver disease and various inflammatory conditions, e.g., rheumatoid arthritis. Interstitial edema caused by accumulation of hyaluronan may cause dysfunction in various organs.