Poly[2-(methacryloyloxy)ethylphosphorylcholine] (pMPC) brushes provide extremely low friction coefficients up to high compressions, but their use as boundary lubricating layers is limited by the challenge of surface grafting of the chains. Coating by thin layers of cross-linked pMPC hydrogels may provide an attractive alternative. Here we use a surface force balance (SFB) and other techniques to examine the effect of light cross-linking (0.1% cross-linker) on the surface interactions and frictional behavior of grafted-from pMPC brushes on mica, up to physiologically high contact pressures. Atomic force microscopy, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, and interferoinetric surface-excess measurements show little difference between the non-cross-linked (linear) pMPC brushes and the cross-linked brushes prepared under otherwise identical conditions. Normal force-distance profiles between the polymer-bearing surfaces, however, reveal a marked compaction of the unperturbed thickness of the cross-linked brushes relative to linear ones, attributed to the cross-linking which limits chain swelling. The cross-linked pMPC layers exhibit very low friction (friction coefficients of order 10(-3)-10(-4), depending on sliding velocities), similar to the corresponding linear brushes and due to hydration lubrication by the highly hydrated phosphocholine monomer structure. Within the range of our parameters, however, there is a marked qualitative difference in the dependence of friction on sliding velocity v(s). While for the linear brushes friction is only very weakly v(s)-dependent (over 3 orders of magnitude in v(s)), due to a self-regulating brush interpenetration, for the cross-linked brushes friction increases markedly with v(s) (similar to v(s)(1/2)), an effect attributed to suppression of interpenetration by the cross-links.