Initial assembly of extracellular matrix occurs within a zone immediately adjacent to the chondrocyte cell surface termed the cell-associated or pericellular matrix. Assembly within the pericellular matrix compartment requires specific cell-matrix interactions to occur, that are mediated via membrane receptors. The focus of this study is to elucidate the mechanisms of assembly and retention of the cartilage pericellular matrix proteoglycan aggregates important for matrix organization. Assembly of newly synthesized chondrocyte pericellular matrices was inhibited by the addition to hyaluronan hexasaccharides, competitive inhibitors of the binding of hyaluronan to its cell surface receptor. Fully assembled chondrocyte pericellular matrices were displaced using hyaluronan hexasaccharides as well. When exogenous hyaluronan was added to matrix-free chondrocytes in combination with aggrecan, a pericellular matrix equivalent in size to an endogenous matrix formed within 30 min of incubation. Addition of hyaluronan and aggrecan to glutaraldehyde-fixed chondrocytes resulted in matrix assembly comparable to live chondrocytes. These matrices could be inhibited from assembling by the addition of excess hyaluronan hexasaccharides or displaced once assembled by subsequent incubation with hyaluronan hexasaccharides. The results indicate that the aggrecanrich chondrocyte pericellular matrix is not only on a scaffolding of hyaluronan, but actually anchored to the cell surface via the interaction between hyaluronan and hyaluronan receptors.

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