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J Anat. 1996 Aug;189 ( Pt 1):9-22.

The development of articular cartilage: I. The spatial and temporal patterns of collagen types.

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  • 1Anatomy Unit, School of Molecular and Medical Biosciences, University of Wales College of Cardiff, UK.


Articular cartilage is both morphologically and biochemically heterogeneous. Its susceptibility to degenerative diseases such as arthritis and its limited repair capacity have made cartilage the focus of intense study; surprisingly, little is known of its development. Using a panel of specific antibodies, we have documented the temporal and spatial patterns of collagen types I, II, III, VI and X in the developing knee cartilage of the marsupial Monodelphis domestica from parturition to adulthood. Type I collagen was initially detected in the presumptive articular cartilage of the epiphyses in addition to the perichondrium. By 14 d postparturition, type I collagen was not detectable in the epiphyseal cartilage apart from insertion sites of ligaments and tendons of the joint. Similarly, type III collagen was detected at insertion sites of the major ligaments and tendons and within the perichondrium/periosteum but was never detected in the cartilage per se. Type II collagen was predictably distributed throughout the cartilage matrix and was also detected in the perichondrium. Type VI collagen was widely distributed throughout the cartilage matrix at parturition, but during development became restricted to a pericellular location particularly towards the presumptive articular cartilage, i.e. the epiphysis. Interestingly, generalised matrix immunopositivity was only retained in the hypertrophic cartilage of the secondary centre of ossification. After the formation of the secondary centre, type VI collagen became localised pericellularly in the deeper regions of the articular cartilage but was absent in the cartilage of the growth plate. Type X collagen showed a novel distribution pattern. In addition to being synthesised by hypertrophic chondrocytes, this collagen type was also expressed transiently by some cells at the presumptive articular surface. Furthermore, these surface chondrocytes also stained histochemically for alkaline phosphatase, suggesting that they were terminally differentiated. The fate of these terminally differentiated cells is unknown.

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