Chondrocytes produce large pericellular coats in vitro that can be visualized by the exclusion of particles, e.g., fixed erythrocytes, and that are removed by treatment with Streptomyces hyaluronidase, which is specific for hyaluronate. In this study, we examined the kinetics of formation of these coats and the relationship of hyaluronate and proteoglycan to coat structure. Chondrocytes were isolated from chick tibia cartilage by collagenase-trypsin digestion and were characterized by their morphology and by their synthesis of both type II collagen and high molecular weight proteoglycans. The degree of spreading of the chondrocytes and the size of the coats were quantitated at various times subsequent to seeding by tracing phase-contrast photomicrographs of the cultures. After seeding, the chondrocytes attached themselves to the tissue culture dish and exhibited coats within 4 h. The coats reached a maximum size after 3-4 d and subsequently decreased over the next 2-3 d. Subcultured chondrocytes produced a large coat only if passaged before 4 d. Both primary and first passage cells, with or without coats, produced type II collagen but not type I collagen as determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Treatment with Streptomyces hyaluronidase (1.0 mU/ml, 15 min), which completely removed the coat, released 58% of the chondroitin sulfate but only 9% of the proteins associated with the cell surface. The proteins released by hyaluronidase were not digestible by bacterial collagenase. Monensin and cycloheximide (0.01-10 microM, 48 h) caused a dose-dependent decrease in coat size that was linearly correlated to synthesis of cell surface hyaluronate (r = 0.98) but not chondroitin sulfate (r = 0.2). We conclude that the coat surrounding chondrocytes is dependent on hyaluronate for its structure and that hyaluronate retains a large proportion of the proteoglycan in the coat.

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