Inter-alpha-inhibitor, hyaluronan and inflammation.

  • Erik Fries Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology, Uppsala University, BMC, Uppsala, Sweden.;
  • Aneta Kaczmarczyk


Inter-alpha-inhibitor is an abundant plasma protein whose physiological function is only now beginning to be revealed. It consists of three polypeptides: two heavy chains and one light chain called bikunin. Bikunin, which has antiproteolytic activity, carries a chondroitin sulphate chain to which the heavy chains are covalently linked. The heavy chains can be transferred from inter-alpha-inhibitor to hyaluronan molecules and become covalently linked. This reaction seems to be mediated by TSG-6, a protein secreted by various cells upon stimulation by inflammatory cytokines. Inter-alpha-inhibitor has been shown to be required for the stabilization of the cumulus cell-oocyte complex during the expansion that occurs prior to ovulation. Hyaluronan-linked heavy chains in the extracellular matrix of this cellular complex have recently been shown to be tightly bound to TSG-6. Since TSG-6 binds to hyaluronan, its complex with heavy chains could stabilize the extracellular matrix by cross-linking hyaluronan molecules. Heavy chains linked to hyaluronan molecules have also been found in inflamed tissues. The physiological role of these complexes is not known but there are indications that they might protect hyaluronan against fragmentation by reactive oxygen species. TSG-6 also binds to bikunin thereby enhancing its antiplasmin activity. Taken together, these results suggest that inter-alpha-inhibitor is an anti-inflammatory agent which is activated by TSG-6.