It is well established that the total protein concentration and albumin-to-globulin ratio influence the wear of ultra-high molecular polyethylene (UHMWPE, “polyethylene”) in joint prostheses. A factor on wear not yet studied, but of possible clinical relevance, is protein cleavage. Such cleavage is expected[...] Read more.
It is well established that the total protein concentration and albumin-to-globulin ratio influence the wear of ultra-high molecular polyethylene (UHMWPE, “polyethylene”) in joint prostheses. A factor on wear not yet studied, but of possible clinical relevance, is protein cleavage. Such cleavage is expected in the presence of an inflammatory response and as a result of wear processes at the articular interface. The aim of this study was to compare the tribological behavior of polyethylene articulated against an orthopedic wrought CoCrMo alloy for three lubricants: cleaved albumin, uncleaved albumin, and newborn calf serum (control). We hypothesized that the cleavage of albumin will increase the friction and wear rate of polyethylene, with a concomitant roughening of the polymer surface and the generation of larger wear debris particles. Cleavage of the bovine albumin into five fragments was performed by digestion with cyanogen bromide. In pin-on-flat (POF) wear tests of polyethylene pins made of Ticona GUR®
1020/1050 against CoCrMo alloy discs, the cleaved albumin led to the lowest polyethylene wear and highest friction coefficients, whereas albumin led to the highest wear rates. In knee simulator tests, the albumin lubricant also led to a 2.7-fold increase in the tibial insert wear rate compared to the regular bovine serum lubricant (a wear rate for the cleaved albumin could not be obtained). The generated polyethylene wear particles were of increasing size and fibrillar shape in going from serum to albumin to cleaved albumin, although only the shape achieved statistical significance. Unlike bovine serum, cleaved albumin led to wear scars for both the POF and simulator wear tests that closely emulated the morphological features observed on explanted polyethylene tibial inserts from total knee replacements. We posit that the smaller protein fragments can more efficiently adsorb on the surfaces of both the polyethylene and the metal, thus offering protection against wear, while at the same time leading to an increase in friction, particle size, and particle elongation, as the protein fragment films interact adhesively during sliding. The results of this study have implications for pre-clinical wear testing methodology as they suggest that albumin concentration may be more pertinent than total protein concentration for wear testing polyethylene.