The molecular weight distribution of hyaluronate (HA) in synovial fluid (SF) from 10 patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), from six patients with other joint disorders, and from five recently deceased persons without joint affections was investigated by a gel chromatographic procedure. A new and highly specific radioassay was used for determination of the HA concentration in the effluent from the chromatographic column, and this allowed analyses on 0.5 ml or less of untreated synovial fluid. The results confirmed the findings by others that the weight-average molecular weight (Mw) of HA in SF from patients with RA (4.8 X 10(6)) was similar to that in other joint diseases (5.0 X 10(6)) and moderately but significantly (p less than 0.001) lower than that of normal SF (7.0 X 10(6)). Furthermore, the molecular weight distribution of HA in the pathological SF was generally broad and varied considerably between individuals. The HA concentration in the pathological SF varied between 0.17 and 1.32 g/l, which is in accordance with previous reports and considerably lower than that of normal SF. Neither the nature of the arthropathy and the extent of the inflammatory process nor the pharmacological treatment had a tendency to influence the HA concentration in the SF, the mean molecular weight of HA, or its molecular weight distribution. Although the concentration of HA in SF drops in joint disease, the total amount of the polysaccharide is greatly enhanced. Also the amount of high molecular weight polysaccharide (Mw greater than 6 X 10(6)) is in excess in joint disease. The pathological state is therefore characterised not by lack of high molecular weight hyaluronate but by a dilution of it.
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