Research ArticleBIOPHYSICS

Hyaluronan orders water molecules in its nanoscale extended hydration shells

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Science Advances  03 Mar 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 10, eabf2558
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf2558


Hyaluronan (HA) is an anionic, highly hydrated bio-polyelectrolyte found in the extracellular environment, like the synovial fluid between joints. We explore the extended hydration shell structure of HA in water using femtosecond elastic second-harmonic scattering (fs-ESHS). HA enhances orientational water-water correlations. Angle-resolved fs-ESHS measurements and nonlinear optical modeling show that HA behaves like a flexible chain surrounded by extended shells of orientationally correlated water. We describe several ways to determine the concentration-dependent size and shape of a polyelectrolyte in water, using the amount of water oriented by the polyelectrolyte charges as a contrast agent. The spatial extent of the hydration shell is determined via temperature-dependent measurements and can reach up to 475 nm, corresponding to a length of 1600 water molecules. A strong isotope effect, stemming from nuclear quantum effects, is observed when light water (H2O) is replaced by heavy water (D2O), amounting to a factor of 4.3 in the scattered SH intensity.

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