What is special about 200 kDa hyaluronan that activates hyaluronan receptor signaling?
The polydispersity of hyaluronan (HA) presents challenges for analyzing its solution properties, such as the relationship between mass and particle size. The broad mass range of natural HA (≤50-fold) makes molecular characterization difficult and ambiguous compared to molecules with known molecular weights (e.g., proteins). Biophysical studies show that large >MDa HA behaves like a random coil, whereas very small (e.g., 10 kDa) HA behaves like a rod. However, the mass range for this conformational transition is not easily determined in natural polydisperse HA. Some HA receptors (e.g., CD44 and HARE) initiate signaling responses upon binding HA in the 100-300 kDa range, but not larger MDa HA. Size-dependent responses are studied using nonnatural HA: purified narrow-size range HA [Pandey MS, Baggenstoss BA, Washburn J, Harris EN, Weigel PH. 2013. The hyaluronan receptor for endocytosis (HARE) activates NF-κB-mediated gene expression in response to 40-400 kDa, but not smaller or sarger, hyaluronans. J Biol Chem. 288:14068-14079] and very narrow size range Select-HA made chemo-enzymatically [Jing W, DeAngelis PL. 2004. Synchronized chemoenzymatic synthesis of monodisperse hyaluronan polymers. J Biol Chem. 279:42345-42349]. Here, we used size exclusion chromatography and multiangle light scattering to determine the weight-average molar mass and diameter of ~60 very narrow size preparations from 29 to 1650 kDa. The ratio of HA mass to HA diameter showed a transition in the 150-250 kDa size range (~65 nm). The HA rod-to-coil transition occurs within the size range that specifically activates cell signaling by some receptors. Thus, size-specific signaling could be due to unique external receptor•HA conformation changes that enable transmembrane-mediated activation of cytoplasmic domains. Alternatively and more likely, transition-size HA may enable multiple receptors to bind the same HA, creating new internal signal-competent cytoplasmic domain complexes.