High and low molecular weight hyaluronic acid differentially influence macrophage activation

ACS Biomater Sci Eng. 2015 Jul 13;1(7):481-493. doi: 10.1021/acsbiomaterials.5b00181.


Macrophages exhibit phenotypic diversity permitting wide-ranging roles in maintaining physiologic homeostasis. Hyaluronic acid, a major glycosaminoglycan of the extracellular matrix, has been shown to have differential signaling based on its molecular weight. With this in mind, the main objective of this study was to elucidate the role of hyaluronic acid molecular weight on macrophage activation and reprogramming. Changes in macrophage activation were assessed by activation state selective marker measurement, specifically quantitative real time polymerase chain reaction, and cytokine enzyme-linked immunoassays, after macrophage treatment with differing molecular weights of hyaluronic acid under four conditions: the resting state, concurrent with classical activation, and following inflammation involving either classically or alternatively activated macrophages. Regardless of initial polarization state, low molecular weight hyaluronic acid induced a classically activated-like state, confirmed by up-regulation of pro-inflammatory genes, including nos2, tnf, il12b, and cd80, and enhanced secretion of nitric oxide and TNF-α. High molecular weight hyaluronic acid promoted an alternatively activated-like state, confirmed by up regulation of pro-resolving gene transcription, including arg1, il10, and mrc1, and enhanced arginase activity. Overall, our observations suggest that macrophages undergo phenotypic changes dependent on molecular weight of hyaluronan that correspond to either (1) pro-inflammatory response for low molecular weight HA or (2) pro-resolving response for high molecular weight HA. These observations bring significant further understanding of the influence of extracellular matrix polymers, hyaluronic acid in particular, on regulating the inflammatory response of macrophages. This knowledge can be used to guide the design of HA-containing biomaterials to better utilize the natural response to HAs.

Keywords: alternatively activated; classically activated; hyaluronic acid; macrophage; molecular weight; polarization.