OBJECTIVE--To determine the content and molecular size of proteoglycans (PGs) in patellar chondromalacia (CM) and control cartilages as a first step in investigating the role of matrix alterations in the pathogenesis of this disease. METHODS--Chondromalacia tissue from 10 patients was removed with a surgical knife. Using identical techniques, apparently healthy cartilage of the same site was obtained from 10 age matched cadavers (mean age 31 years in both groups). Additional pathological cartilage was collected from 67 patients with grades II-IV CM (classified according to Outerbridge) using a motorised shaver under arthroscopic control. The shaved cartilage chips were collected with a dense net from the irrigation fluid of the shaver. The content of tissue PGs was determined by Safranin O precipitation or uronic acid content, and the molecular size by mobility on agarose gel electrophoresis. RESULTS--The mean PG content of the CM tissue samples with a knife was dramatically reduced, being only 15% of that in controls. The cartilage chips collected from shaving operations of grades II, III, and IV CM showed a decreasing PG content: 9%, 5%, and 1% of controls, respectively. Electrophoretic analysis of PGs extracted with guanidium chloride from the shaved tissue samples suggested a significantly reduced size of aggrecans in the mild (grade II) lesions. CONCLUSION--These data show that there is already a dramatic and progressive depletion of PGs in CM grade II lesions. This explains the softening of cartilage, a typical finding in the arthroscopic examination of CM. The PG size reduction observed in grade II implicates proteolytic attack as a factor in the pathogenesis of CM.
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