Fibronectin, the major cell surface glycoprotein of fibroblasts, is absent from differentiated cartilage matrix and chondrocytes in situ. However, dissociation of embryonic chick sternal cartilage with collagenase and trypsin, followed by inoculation in vitro reinitiates fibronectin synthesis by chondrocytes. Immunofluorescence microscopy with antibodies prepared against plasma fibronectin (cold insoluble globulin [CIG]) reveals fibronectin associated with the chondrocyte surface. Synthesis and secretion of fibronectin into the medium are shown by anabolic labeling with [35S]methionine or [3H]glycine, and identification of the secreted proteins by immunoprecipitation and sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS)-disc gel electrophoresis. When chondrocytes are plated onto tissue culture dishes, the pattern of surface-associated fibronectin changes from a patchy into a strandlike appearance. Where epithelioid clones of polygonal chondrocytes develop, only short strands of fibronectin appear preferentially at cellular interfaces. This pattern is observed as long as cells continue to produce type II collagen that fails to precipitate as extracellular collagen fibers for some time in culture. Using the immunofluorescence double-labeling technique, we demonstrate that fibroblasts as well as chondrocytes which synthesize type I collagen and deposit this collagen as extracellular fibers show a different pattern of extracellular fibronectin that codistributes in large parts with collagen fibers. Where chondrocytes begin to accumulate extracellular cartilage matrix, fibronectin strands disappear. From these observations, we conclude (a) that chondrocytes synthesize fibronectin only in the absence of extracellular cartilage matrix, and (b) that fibronectin forms only short intercellular "stitches" in the absence of extracellular collagen fibers in vitro.

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