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Hyaluronan, lubricin and phospholipids, molecules ubiquitous in synovial joints, such as hips and knees, have separately been invoked as the lubricants responsible for the remarkable lubrication of articular cartilage; but alone, these molecules cannot explain the extremely low friction at the high pressures of such joints. We find that surface-anchored hyaluronan molecules complex synergistically with phosphatidylcholine lipids present in joints to form a boundary lubricating layer, which, with coefficient of friction μ≈0.001 at pressures to over 100 atm, has a frictional behaviour resembling that of articular cartilage in the major joints. Our findings point to a scenario where each of the molecules has a different role but must act together with the others: hyaluronan, anchored at the outer surface of articular cartilage by lubricin molecules, complexes with joint phosphatidylcholines to provide the extreme lubrication of synovial joints via the hydration-lubrication mechanism.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat commun

Publication Date





Aluminum Silicates, Biotinylation, Cartilage, Articular, Friction, Glycoproteins, Humans, Hyaluronic Acid, Joints, Liposomes, Models, Chemical, Phosphatidylcholines, Pressure, Stress, Mechanical, Surface Properties, Synovial Fluid