Chondrocytes display within the articular cartilage depth-dependent variations of their many properties that are comparable to the depth-dependent changes of the properties of the surrounding extracellular matrix. However, not much is known about the spatial organisation of the chondrocytes throughout the tissue. Recent studies revealed that human chondrocytes display distinct spatial patterns of organisation within the articular surface, and each joint surface is dominated in a typical way by one of four basic spatial patterns. The resulting complex spatial organisations correlate with the specific diarthrodial joint type, suggesting an association of the chondrocyte organisation within the joint surface with the occurring biomechanical forces. In response to focal osteoarthritis (OA), the superficial chondrocytes experience a destruction of their spatial organisation within the OA lesion, but they also undergo a defined remodelling process distant from the OA lesion in the remaining, intact cartilage surface. One of the biological insights that can be derived from this spatial remodelling process is that the chondrocytes are able to respond in a generalised and coordinated fashion to distant focal OA. The spatial characteristics of this process are tremendously different from the cellular aggregations typical for OA lesions, suggesting differences in the underlying mechanisms. Here we summarise the available information on the spatial organisation of chondrocytes and its potential roles in cartilage functioning. The spatial organisation could be used to diagnose early OA onset before manifest OA results in tissue destruction and clinical symptoms. With further development, this concept may become clinically suitable for the diagnosis of preclinical OA.
- superficial articular chondrocytes
- spatial organization
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