Water-binding ability of hyaluronan

The hydrophilic portion of the hyaluronan molecule plays a major role in the ability of hyaluronan to bind to water much more than most other polymers. In aqueous solution, a 'water bridge' is formed between the amine and carboxyl groups present in hyaluronan and the water molecule, as shown below. This bridge plays an important part in stabilising the structure of hyaluronan.

Hyaluronan in aqueous solution, with formation of water bridges

Even at very low concentrations, a solution of hyaluronan will form a firm gel. A good example of this can be seen in the composition of the cock's comb, which is 90% water, yet has a firm, almost rigid, consistency. This is achieved through the presence of 7-8% hyaluronan, which binds the water into a hydrated gel.


Functions of hyaluronan

Because of its physical and biochemical properties, hyaluronan has an important role in a number of physiological processes. It:

  • Protects and lubricates soft tissues (a consequence of its viscoelastic properties)

  • Aids in the repair process by mediating cell adhesion, differentiation, motility and proliferation

  • Controls tissue hydration by retaining large quantities of water

  • Transports nutrients to and from cells

  • Helps maintain the structural integrity of tissues

  • Has a filtering effect and regulates protein distribution


   Extracellular Matrix        Cells                       
   Structural integrity
   Transport of nutrients     
   Motility and proliferation
   Morphogenesis, embryogenesis and      



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