noigroup logo

We are powerful self lubricators: Neuroscience nugget No. 17

By David Butler Neuroscience Nuggets 08 Dec 2015

Without lubrication our bodies will not function – your eyes won’t close, tendons won’t glide, joints won’t slide, sex just doesn’t happen, red blood cells won’t tumble through arteries, and nor will our organs slither on each other. Discs, meninges and pleura all need it too.

Lubrication – what a glorious word. A key compound in our lubricants is lubricin – another lovely word. Makes you think “I would like a bit of that in my car, on my bike chain, maybe on me somewhere”.

The delicious nugget is that we are all powerful self lubricators, able to make and distribute lubricin in optimal amounts, as needed, and, this production is linked to our behaviours. This nugget is for those with injury, stress and pain and for those who don’t want injury, stress and pain.


Lubricin is a protein that mixes with hyaluronic acid and other molecules to form a nearly friction free substance. It has been well studied especially in the synovial fluid of joints, and its role in osteoarthritis (OA). Here is where it gets interesting in relation to modern pain concepts. OA is increasingly characterised as a long term, low grade inflammation of joint surfaces (not just a mechanical wear and tear problem as is the common thinking). The immune system is always involved in inflammation and exposure to higher levels of proinflammatory cytokines such as interleukin 1 and TNF alpha lead to a reduction in quality and amount of lubricin. After an arthritic flareup, elevated levels of these anti-lubricin, proinflammatory compounds can persist in the joint for years. But equally, exposure to anti-inflammatory cytokines and growth factors helps the quality and amount of lubricin. Might there be a role for the known immune buffering behaviours here?

Joint lubrication is enhanced by physical activity and presumably lubrication of the rest of the body is healthier with normal physical use too. Cognitive factors such as helplessness , catastrophizing , coping and self efficacy are well known psychological contributing factors in rheumatoid arthritis and there is increasing awareness of the role of these factors in OA. These elements are candidates for an off balance, pro-inflammatory enhanced immune system.

Our thoughts and our lubrication may be more closely linked than we think.

Spread the word

So tell your patients, clients and friends about lovely lubricin. It might just get them moving and thinking more fondly about their body. Words and phrases to power up the nugget include “lubricin is cytoprotective and chondroprotective”, “you can build up a lubricin reservoir in your joints with healthy movement” and “marvel how your eyelids slide on your eye – that’s lubricin“. Tell them too, that a diet with newly pressed extra-virgin olive oil can also be helpful for lubrication.

Oh the imagery…

-David Butler


Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 5.14.26 pm
Get lubricated at EP3 2016! Click on the banner above for details and tickets.


“Neuroscience nuggets”

Neuroscience nuggets are information nuggets – pieces of biological information based on statement and metaphor that can be used as educational analgesia, explicit education or part of overall story telling. We have collected over 100 of these for a book – Explain Pain Supercharged (coming 2016) and will release them regularly on NOIjam with a short description and references if appropriate.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Product was added to cart.