Viscoelastic Properties of Hyaluronan in Physiological Conditions

Mary K. Cowman, Tannin A. Schmidt, Preeti Raghavan, Antonio Stecco

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Hyaluronan (HA) is a high molecular weight glycosaminoglycan of the extracellular matrix (ECM), which is particularly abundant in soft connective tissues. Solutions of HA can be highly viscous with non-Newtonian flow properties. These properties affect the movement of HA-containing fluid layers within and underlying the deep fascia. Changes in the concentration, molecular weight, or even covalent modification of HA in inflammatory conditions, as well as changes in binding interactions with other macromolecules, can have dramatic effects on the sliding movement of fascia. The high molecular weight and the semi-flexible chain of HA are key factors leading to the high viscosity of dilute solutions, and real HA solutions show additional nonideality and greatly increased viscosity due to mutual macromolecular crowding. The shear rate dependence of the viscosity, and the viscoelasticity of HA solutions, depend on the relaxation time of the molecule, which in turn depends on the HA concentration and molecular weight. Temperature can also have an effect on these properties. High viscosity can additionally affect the lubricating function of HA solutions. Immobility can increase the concentration of HA, increase the viscosity, and reduce lubrication and gliding of the layers of connective tissue and muscle. Over time, these changes can alter both muscle structure and function. Inflammation can further increase the viscosity of HA-containing fluids if the HA is modified via covalent attachment of heavy chains derived from Inter-α-Inhibitor. Hyaluronidase hydrolyzes HA, thus reducing its molecular weight, lowering the viscosity of the extracellular matrix fluid and making outflow easier. It can also disrupt any aggregates or gel-like structures that result from HA being modified. Hyaluronidase is used medically primarily as a dispersion agent, but may also be useful in conditions where altered viscosity of the fascia is desired, such as in the treatment of muscle stiffness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number622
StatePublished - 2015


  • Fascia
  • Hyaluronan
  • Lubrication
  • Viscoelasticity
  • Viscosity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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