Summary and Conclusion A Summary

HA is an acidic GAG of D-GlcA and D-GlcNA that is found in mammalian connected tissue. It is a polydisperse, unbranched chain whose molecular weight varies from 300 to >103 kDa. HA occurs as a free chain and covalently bonded to protein as the SHAP-HA complex. It can be found inside and outside the cells. Its secondary and tertiary structures in solution display both stiff and flexible domains that suggest deviations of its primary structure (sugar-sequence) from the alternating sequence of the sugars indicated earlier. In this review, the secondary and tertiary structures of HA in solution are analyzed, in an attempt to explain their relevance to normal biologic functions and aging. Hydrophilic sequences of D-GlcN and D-GlcA are used to explain the stiff and flexible domains detected in HA solutions. The hydrophilic segments should be more densely hydrogen bonded with water than the regions of alternating D-GlcA and D-GlaNAc, as water would form cages around them.

Stiff segments can originate from hydrogen bond networks or from van der Waals associations of the methyl moieties of D-GlcNAc in a sequence of this sugar only or in the classical alternating sequence of D-GlcA and D-GlcNAc. Stiff segments originating from acidic (D-GlcA) and basic (D-GlcN) sugars are disrupted by base (e.g., OH"), as it becomes the hydrogen acceptor in the hydrogen bonds HA makes with water. If stiffness results from hydrophobic interactions, a basic reagent relaxes it, as it removes methyl protons from the acetamido moiety of D-GlcNAc, since these protons are acidic.

Viscous solutions of HA in water are the result of highly dense, HA-water, hydrogen bond networks. These solutions appear to be involved in a variety of biologic functions such as the efficient support of healthy joints by synovial fluid; the protection of corneal endothelium from mechanical damage; cell differentiation in fetal tissue; fluidity in the vitreous body of the eye and many others. The therapeutic and medical uses of highly viscous HA are presently diverse and are growing rapidly.

In aging, the hypothetic D-GlcN sequence was used in an attempt to explain the N-deacetylation of human skin HA at 75 years of age. Because the skin composition of HA decreases by 77% (w/w) also at 75 years, and the basic sugar-sequence makes HA more hydrophilic than the alternating sequence of D-GlcA and D-GlcNAc, it was concluded that nature compensates for the loss of HA concentration in aging by having an enzyme that removes the N-acetyl groups, making HA more hydrophilic. Highly hydrophilic HA is needed in aged human skin, if no other molecules are made to retain the water, since about 50% (w/w) of this reagent is bonded to this GAG.

The reasons for the loss of HA from the skin were attributed to depolymerization induced by both endogenous and exogenous free radicals. This hypothesis is supported by findings that indicate that free radical scavengers inhibit UV-light-mediated cleavage of HA in vitro. It was found that the UV-light irradiation of skin in vivo resulted in increased GAG biosynthesis in hairless mice and albino rats; but providing vitamin E in the rat's diet reversed the latter results. Because vitamin E is a natural free radical scavenger, the data support a free radical involvement. In the absence of UV-light irradiation, depolymerization may be caused by endogenous free radicals, which are natural products of metabolism, or by enzymatic degradation. Results on this area are conflicting; some workers reported HA depolymerization in rat skin, while others found no significant age-related changes in HA size.

Analysis of the literature on the age-related effect of HA in cell aging (cell passage) in vitro revealed that the biosynthesis of HA increased with the number of cell passages in an UVA-dose-dependent way, and that there was an increment in hydrolytic enzymes. In the absence of UV-irradiation, the concentration of HA decreased as the number of cell passages increased.

Literature pertaining to the effect of age on the concentration of HA in body fluids has been investigated. It revealed that the HA content increased with aging in human serum.

Data on the alterations of HA in accelerated aging diseases like progeria and Down's syndrome are inconclusive. Nevertheless, it was found that urinary HA was increased in progeria patients. In the serum of patients with Down's syndrome, HA content was only slightly higher than in the normal serum.

B. Conclusion

HA is an essential heteropolysaccharide of mammalian connective tissue. It is a free radical scavenger that protects the system from endogenous and exogenous free radicals. Its broad involvement in biologic functions, aging, medicine and therapeutic processes requires that its exact sugar-sequence be elucidated. Such knowledge would shed light on its mechanism of action and facilitate: the development of ways to retard human aging; therapies to prevent or cure premature aging-like disorders as progeria and Down's syndrome; and drugs for the treatment or prevention of other diseases of the aged in which HA appears to play a role.

Acknowledgements

Scholarly Research Release Award from Purdue University Calumet supported this work.

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