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A trickster in disguise: Hyaluronan’s ambivalent roles in the matrix


Böhm,  Heike
Cellular Biophysics, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Max Planck Society;
Biophysical Chemistry, Institute of Physical Chemistry, University of Heidelberg, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany;

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Bohaumilitzky, L., Huber, A.-K., Stork, E.-M., Wengert, S., Woelfl, F., & Böhm, H. (2017). A trickster in disguise: Hyaluronan’s ambivalent roles in the matrix. Frontiers in Oncology, 7: 242, pp. 1-19. doi:10.3389/fonc.2017.00242.

Hyaluronan (HA) is a simple but diverse glycosaminoglycan. It plays a major role in aging, cellular senescence, cancer, and tissue homeostasis. In which way HA affects the surrounding tissues greatly depends on the molecular weight of HA. Whereas high molecular weight HA is associated with homeostasis and protective effects, HA fragments tend to be linked to the pathologic state. Furthermore, the interaction of HA with its binding partners, the hyaladherins, such as CD44, is essential for sustaining tissue integrity and is likewise related to cancer. The naked mole rat, a rodent species, possesses a special form of very high molecular weight (vHMW) HA, which is associated with the extraordinary cancer resistance and longevity of those animals. This review addresses HA and its diverse facets: from HA synthesis to degradation, from oligomeric HA to vHMW-HA and from its beneficial properties to the involvement in pathologies. We further discuss the functions of HA in the naked mole rat and compare them to human conditions. Though intensively researched, this simple polymer bears some secrets that may hold the key for a better understanding of cellular processes and the development of diseases, such as cancer.