Adsorption, lubrication, and wear of lubricin on model surfaces: polymer brush-like behavior of a glycoprotein

Biophys J. 2007 Mar 1;92(5):1693-708. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.106.088799. Epub 2006 Dec 1.


Using a surface force apparatus, we have measured the normal and friction forces between layers of the human glycoprotein lubricin, the major boundary lubricant in articular joints, adsorbed from buffered saline solution on various hydrophilic and hydrophobic surfaces: i), negatively charged mica, ii), positively charged poly-lysine and aminothiol, and iii), hydrophobic alkanethiol monolayers. On all these surfaces lubricin forms dense adsorbed layers of thickness 60-100 nm. The normal force between two surfaces is always repulsive and resembles the steric entropic force measured between layers of end-grafted polymer brushes. This is the microscopic mechanism behind the antiadhesive properties showed by lubricin in clinical tests. For pressures up to approximately 6 atm, lubricin lubricates hydrophilic surfaces, in particular negatively charged mica (friction coefficient mu = 0.02-0.04), much better than hydrophobic surfaces (mu > 0.3). At higher pressures, the friction coefficient is higher (mu > 0.2) for all surfaces considered and the lubricin layers rearrange under shear. However, the glycoprotein still protects the underlying substrate from damage up to much higher pressures. These results support recent suggestions that boundary lubrication and wear protection in articular joints are due to the presence of a biological polyelectrolyte on the cartilage surfaces.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aluminum Silicates / chemistry
  • Glycoproteins / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions*
  • Lubrication*
  • Polylysine / chemistry
  • Polymers / chemistry
  • Shear Strength*
  • Surface Properties
  • Synovial Fluid / chemistry


  • Aluminum Silicates
  • Glycoproteins
  • Polymers
  • lubricin
  • Polylysine
  • mica