OBJECTIVE--To study the effects of long term (one year), long distance (up to 40 km/day) running on the metabolism of articular cartilage the biosynthesis of proteoglycans was examined by in vitro labelling of anterior (weight bearing) and posterior (less weight bearing) areas of the femoral head from young beagles. METHODS--Total sulphate incorporation rates were determined and distribution of the incorporated sulphate was localised by quantitative autoradiography. Concentration and extractability of the proteoglycans were determined, and proteoglycan structures were investigated by gel filtration chromatography, agarose gel electrophoresis, and chemical determinations. RESULTS--In the less weight bearing area the amount of extractable proteoglycans was decreased (p < or = 0.02), simultaneously with an increased concentration of residual glycosaminoglycans in the tissue after 4 M GuCl extraction (p < or = 0.05). In control animals proteoglycan synthesis was most active in the deep zone of the cartilage, whereas exercise increased synthesis in the intermediate zone. There was a tendency to a lower keratan: chondroitin sulphate ratio in the running dogs. No macroscopical or microscopical signs of articular degeneration or injury were visible in any of the animals. CONCLUSION--The articular cartilage of the femoral head showed a great capacity to adapt to the increased mechanical loading. The reduced proteoglycan extractability in the less weight bearing area changed it similar to the weight bearing area, suggesting that the low extractability of proteoglycans reflects the long term loading history of articular cartilage. The congruency of the femoral head with acetabulum seems to protect the cartilage from the untoward alterations that occur in the femoral condyles subjected to a similar running programme.
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