Articular joints in human body are uniquely efficient lubrication systems. While the cartilage surfaces slide past each other under physiological working conditions (pressure of tens of atmospheres and shear rates up to 106 – 107 Hz), the friction coefficient (μ) achieves extremely low values (down to 0.001) never successfully reached by mechanical prosthetic devices. Friction studies on polymer brushes attached to surfaces have recently demonstrated (17) their ability to reduce friction between the rubbing surfaces to extremely low values by means of the hydrated ions and the charges on the polymer chains. We propose that the extremely efficient lubrication observed in living joints arises from the presence of a brush-like phase of charged macromolecules at the surface of the cartilage superficial zone: hydration layers which surround the charges on the cartilage macromolecules might provide a lubricating ball-bearing-like effect as demonstrated for the synthetic polyelectrolytes (17). In this work macromolecules of the cartilage superficial zone (aggrecans) are extracted from human femoral heads and purified using well developed biochemical techniques (20). The extracted molecules are then characterized with atomic force microscope (AFM). By means of a surface force balance (SFB) normal and shear interactions between mica surfaces coated with these molecules are examined focusing on the frictional forces between such surfaces at normal stresses similar to those in human joints.

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