Wear of articulated surfaces can be a major lifetime-limiting factor in arthroplasty. In the natural joint, lubrication is effected by the body’s natural synovial fluid. Following arthroplasty, and the subsequent reformation of the synovial membrane, a fluid of similar composition surrounds the artificial joint. Synovial fluid contains, among many other constituents, a substantial concentration of the readily adsorbing protein albumin. The ability of human serum albumin to act as a boundary lubricant in joint prostheses has been investigated using a pin-on-disc tribometer. Circular dichroism spectroscopy was employed to follow the temperature- and time-dependent conformational changes of human serum albumin in the model lubricant solution. Effects of protein conformation and polymer surface hydrophilicity on protein adsorption and the resulting friction in the boundary lubrication regime have been investigated. Unfolded proteins preferentially adsorb onto hydrophobic polymer surfaces, where they form a compact, passivating layer and increase sliding friction—an effect that can be largely suppressed by rendering the substrate more hydrophilic. A molecular model for protein-mediated boundary friction is proposed to consolidate the observations. The relevance of the results for in vivo performance and ex vivo hip-joint testing are discussed.
Heuberger, M. P., M. R. Widmer, E. Zobeley, R. Glockshuber, N. D. Spencer