Bovine articular chondrocytes cultured in agarose gel comprise a heterogeneous population when judged by morphological and histochemical criteria. The purpose of the present experiments was to compare, under the same conditions of culture, sub-populations of chondrocytes derived from different depths of articular cartilage. Sub-populations of chondrocytes were cultured separately following their isolation from slices of articular cartilage cut from successive depths of the tissue. Chondrocytes derived from superficial and deep zones differed significantly in morphology, rate of proliferation, and activity in secreting a proteoglycan-rich extracellular matrix. The differences are sufficient to account for the heterogeneity observed in cultures of the entire cell population, and they correlate well with known variations with depth in morphology and histochemistry of intact articular cartilage. These results demonstrate that articular chondrocytes continue in culture to express metabolic differences which reflect their original anatomical location; such differences may have important functional singificance.
Sub-populations; articular; chondrocytes; morphology; culture