This work describes an approach to monitor chondrogenesis of stage-24 chick limb mesodermal cells in vitro by analyzing the onset of type II collagen synthesis with carboxymethyl-cellulose chromatography, immunofluorescence, and radioimmunoassay. This procedure allowed specific and quantitative determination of chondrocytes in the presence of fibroblasts and myoblasts, both of which synthesize type I collagen. Chondrogenesis was studied in high-density cell preparations on tissue culture plastic dishes and on agar base. It was found that stage-24 limb mesenchymal cells initially synthesized only type I collagen. With the onset of chondrogenesis, a gradual transition to type II collagen synthesis was observed. In cell aggregates formed over agar, type II collagen synthesis started after 1 day in culture and reached levels of 80-90 percent of the total collagen synthesis at 6-8 days. At that time, the cells in the center of the aggregates had acquired the typical chondrocyte phenotype and stained only with type II collagen antibodies, whereas the peripheral cells had developed into a "perichondrium" and stained with type I and type II collagen antibodies. On plastic dishes plated with 5 X 10(6) cells per 35mm dish, cartilage nodules developed after 4-6 days, but the type II collagen synthesis only reached levels of 10-20 percent of the total collagen. The majority of the cells differentiated into fibroblasts and myoblasts and synthesized type I collagen. These studies demonstrate that analysis of cell specific types of collagen provides a useful method for detailing the specific events in the differentiation of mesenchymal cells in vitro.

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