Role of structure and glycosylation of adsorbed protein films in biolubrication

Deepak H. Veeregowda, Henk J. Busscher, Arjan Vissink, Derk Jan Jager, Prashant K. Sharma, Henny C. van der Mei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Water forms the basis of lubrication in the human body, but is unable to provide sufficient lubrication without additives. The importance of biolubrication becomes evident upon aging and disease, particularly under conditions that affect secretion or composition of body fluids. Insufficient biolubrication, may impede proper speech, mastication and swallowing, underlie excessive friction and wear of articulating cartilage surfaces in hips and knees, cause vaginal dryness, and result in dry, irritated eyes. Currently, our understanding of biolubrication is insufficient to design effective therapeutics to restore biolubrication. Aim of this study was to establish the role of structure and glycosylation of adsorbed protein films in biolubrication, taking the oral cavity as a model and making use of its dynamics with daily perturbations due to different glandular secretions, speech, drinking and eating, and tooth brushing. Using different surface analytical techniques (a quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation monitoring, colloidal probe atomic force microscopy, contact angle measurements and X-ray photo-electron spectroscopy), we demonstrated that adsorbed salivary conditioning films in vitro are more lubricious when their hydrophilicity and degree of glycosylation increase, meanwhile decreasing their structural softness. High-molecular-weight, glycosylated proteins adsorbing in loops and trains, are described as necessary scaffolds impeding removal of water during loading of articulating surfaces. Comparing in vitro and in vivo water contact angles measured intra-orally, these findings were extrapolated to the in vivo situation. Accordingly, lubricating properties of teeth, as perceived in 20 volunteers comprising of equal numbers of male and female subjects, could be related with structural softness and glycosylation of adsorbed protein films on tooth surfaces. Summarizing, biolubrication is due to a combination of structure and glycosylation of adsorbed protein films, providing an important clue to design effective therapeutics to restore biolubrication in patients with insufficient biolubrication.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere42600
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2012

Cite this