OBJECTIVES / HYPOTHESIS : To study the hyaluronan occurrence in human vocal folds, with special regards to gender and smoking and to discuss the implications of findings. STUDY DESIGN : This is a descriptive/morphologic study. METHODS : Sixteen cadaveric vocal folds from eight individuals between 58 and 90 years old (six women
and two men) were removed and studied morphologically. Three of the individuals had been cigarette smokers. A direct method for hyaluronan histochemistry using a hyaluronan-binding protein probe
(HABP) was used to visualize the polysaccharide. Five examiners performed an analysis of the intensities of hyaluronan staining, independently. RESULTS : We observed intense hyaluronan staining of the vocal folds of which those from women stained considerably stronger than those from men. Stratified squamous epithelium stained for hyaluronan in all sections, whereas respiratory epithelium only stained weakly or not at all. The highest accumulation of hyaluronan occurred subepithelially in the lamina propria, corresponding to Reinke's space. It was observed that vocal folds from smokers were more intensively stained than those from nonsmokers. CONCLUSIONS : Hyaluronan is found in all layers of the human vocal fold. Contradictory to earlier studies, hyaluronan was visualized in squamous epithelium, where it may function as an impact protector. The occurrence of hyaluronan in smokers may have implications in the development of vocal fold inflammation and tumor initiation as hyaluronan is an important molecule in these processes.