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Slick and springy: Brown research reveals protein's role in joints

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] Synovial fluid is slime with a serious purpose: Protecting shoulders, hips and other joints from wear, reducing the likelihood of injuries and arthritis.

Scientists have long believed that synovial fluid gets its surface-slicking, shock-absorbing properties from the "goo molecule" hyaluronate. But new research led by Brown University physician and engineer Gregory Jay, M.D., shows that the protein lubricin is also a player, not only lubricating cartilage but also giving synovial fluid its spring.

"Protein components like lubricin are just as key as hyaluronate for protecting joints," Jay said. "What we hope to get out of this knowledge is better treatments for arthritis, one of the most common chronic health problems and the biggest cause of disability in the nation."

Jay's research, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is clinically relevant. People with osteoarthritis in their knees can now get viscosupplementation, a medical procedure that involves an injection of hyaluronate directly into knee joints in an effort to reduce pain and improve movement. The new research shows that it might be beneficial to add lubricin into these injectable fluids, Jay said.

"Adding this protein to supplements could restore elasticity in synovial fluid and prevent damage to cartilage inside the joint," he said. "These supplements could be an effective preventive treatment for arthritis or for sports injuries."

Jay, a Rhode Island Hospital emergency physician and Brown associate professor of emergency medicine and engineering, has studied joint mechanics for 20 years. His lab spearheaded research into lubricin's role as a "boundary lubricant" by reducing friction between opposing layers of cartilage inside joints.

In this new work, Jay and his team show how lubricin and hyaluronate work together to give synovial fluid its elastic property. The team f
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Contact: Wendy Lawton
Wendy_Lawton@brown.edu
401-863-1862
Brown University
5-Apr-2007


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