We describe the isolation and the ultrastructural characteristics of adult bovine articular chondrocytes in vitro. Slices of bovine articular cartilage undergo sequential digestions with pronase and collagenase in order to release cells. Chondrocytes are plated at high density (1 x 10(5) cells/cm2) in culture dishes or roller bottles with Ham's F-12 medium, supplemented with 10% fetal bovine serum. Before culture, chondrocytes are freed of surrounding territorial matrix. Within the first few days of culture they re-establish a territorial matrix. As time progresses, chondrocytes synthesize both territorial and extraterritorial matrices. The matrices are rich in collagen fibrils and ruthenium red-positive proteoglycans. These features are most apparent in mass roller cultures in which aggregates of cells and matrix appear as long streaks and nodules. This morphology reveals an organization of chondrocytes and their matrices that is similar to that of the parent articular cartilage in vivo.

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