The extracellular polysaccharide hyaluronan (HA) is ubiquitous in all vertebrate tissues, where its various functions are encoded in the supramolecular complexes and matrices that it forms with HA-binding proteins (hyaladherins). In tissues, these supramolecular architectures are frequently subjected to mechanical stress, yet how this affects the intermolecular bonding is largely unknown. Here, we used a recently developed single-molecule force spectroscopy platform to analyze and compare the mechanical strength of bonds between HA and a panel of hyaladherins from the Link module superfamily, namely the complex of the proteoglycan aggrecan and cartilage link protein, the proteoglycan versican, the inflammation-associated protein TSG-6, the HA receptor for endocytosis (stabilin-2/HARE), and the HA receptor CD44. We find that the resistance to tensile stress for these hyaladherins correlates with the size of the HA-binding domain. The lowest mean rupture forces are observed for members of the type A subgroup (i.e., with the shortest HA-binding domains; TSG-6 and HARE). In contrast, the mechanical stability of the bond formed by aggrecan in complex with cartilage link protein (two members of the type C subgroup, i.e., with the longest HA-binding domains) and HA is equal or even superior to the high affinity streptavidin⋅biotin bond. Implications for the molecular mechanism of unbinding of HA⋅hyaladherin bonds under force are discussed, which underpin the mechanical properties of HA⋅hyaladherin complexes and HA-rich extracellular matrices.
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