Full-depth plugs of adult human articular cartilage were cut into serial slices from the articular surface and analysed for their glycosaminoglycan content. The amount of chondroitin sulphate was highest in the mid-zone, whereas keratan sulphate increased progressively through the depth. Proteoglycans were isolated from each layer by extraction with 4M-guanidinium chloride followed by centrifugation in 0.4M-guanidinium chloride/CsCl at a starting density of 1.5 g/ml. The efficiency with which proteoglycans were extracted depended on slice thickness, and extraction was complete only when cartilage from each zone was sectioned at 20 microns or less. When thick sections (250 microns) were extracted, hyaluronic acid was retained in the tissue. Most of the proteoglycans, extracted from each layer under optimum conditions, could interact with hyaluronic acid to form aggregates, although the extent of aggregation was less in the deeper layers. Two pools of proteoglycan were identified in all layers by gel chromatography (Kav. 0.33 and 0.58). The smaller of these was rich in keratan sulphate and protein, and gradually increased in proportion through the cartilage depth. Chondroitin sulphate chain size was constant in all regions. The changes in composition and structure observed were consistent with the current model for hyaline-cartilage proteoglycans and were similar to those observed with increasing age in human articular cartilage.

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