Chondrocytes: Definition & Function

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laura Enzor

Laura has a Master's degree in Biology and is working on her PhD in Biology. She specializes in teaching Human Physiology at USC.

In cartilage connective tissues there are cells called chondrocytes. Understand the definition and function of chondrocytes, examine the three cartilage types, and what it looks like when chondrocytes disfunction. Updated: 09/09/2021

What are Chondrocytes?

Chondrocytes, or chondrocytes in lacunae, are cells found in cartilage connective tissue. The number of chondrocytes found in cartilage determines how 'bendy' the cartilage is. When looking through a microscope, chondrocytes look similar to eyeballs floating in goo. Remember the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? That section of the movie when they are eating eyeball soup? That's the easiest way to determine what type of cartilage you're talking about, the number of 'eyeballs' in the soup.

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  • 0:00 What Are Chondrocytes?
  • 0:30 Function
  • 1:40 Cartilage Types
  • 2:35 Dysfunctional Chondrocytes
  • 3:15 Lesson Summary
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So what, exactly, do chondrocytes do? Since chondrocytes are the only cells located in cartilage, they produce and maintain the cartilage matrix. So what is a cartilage matrix? If you look at the name 'chondrocyte in lacunae,' 'lacunae' is Latin for 'lake.' That's exactly what the matrix is - a type of lake in which the chondrocytes 'swim.'

This may lead you to ask why cartilage is important in the first place. One of the principal functions of some cartilage types is to keep bones from rubbing together. We call this reducing friction. Imagine rubbing two pieces of sandpaper together. The pieces of sand in the paper rub against one another and, after a while, you get a pile of dust, right? Imagine the two pieces of sandpaper were the ends of your bones. That would start to hurt! Now imagine putting a piece of regular paper in between the two pieces of sandpaper. Now the friction is reduced, and the sandpaper moves much easier.

Cartilage Types

There are three types of cartilage found in the human body.

  • Elastic cartilage is the most flexible, which means it contains the most chondrocytes. This is the type of cartilage found in your ear.
  • Hyaline cartilage is the second most flexible. This cartilage is found in your nose and at the end of your ribs.
  • Fibro-cartilage is the cartilage with the fewest number of chondrocytes, which means it is the least flexible. This is the type of cartilage found in your knee as well as in-between the vertebrae in your spine.

The flexibility level of the various cartilages makes sense, right? You want something like your nose or ear that can be damaged easily to be 'bendy,' so it doesn't break. However, you don't want your knees or spine to be unstable, so a more rigid cartilage is the way to go!

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