What is Cartilage? - Definition, Types & Function

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  • 0:06 Connective Tissue…
  • 1:02 Chondroblasts and Chondrocytes
  • 1:50 Three Types fo Cartilage
  • 3:19 Cartilage Damage and Repair
  • 3:53 Lesson Summary
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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.

Cartilage is a strong, flexible type of connective tissue found within a body. Learn more about its structure and function, as well as the different types of cartilage connective tissue we have in our bodies.

Connective Tissue Structure and Support

Cartilage is connective tissue that is less rigid than bone and less flexible than muscles.
Cartilage structure

Connective tissue is essential for our bodies to function properly. Bone connective tissue provides structure and support, adipose (or fat) connective tissue insulates and provides energy, and blood connective tissue distributes oxygen to our tissues and removes carbon dioxide. Another integral type of connective tissue is cartilage.

The main structural components of our bodies are bone, muscle, and cartilage. Bones are rigid, while muscles bend, stretch, and are flexible. Cartilage connective tissue is the perfect halfway point between these other tissues. It is not as rigid or as hard as bone, and it is also less flexible than muscle. Therefore, we find cartilage in places where we need some support and structure, but a bit of flexibility as well. This includes places such as our joints, our ears, and our nose, as well as in between the vertebrae in our spinal column.

Chondroblasts and Chondrocytes

Connective tissue is comprised of living cells within an extracellular (or outside the cell) matrix. The extracellular matrix in cartilage is produced by specialized cells called chondroblasts. Chondroblasts that are caught in the matrix are called chondrocytes. These cells lie in spaces called lacunae. Chondrocytes, also called chondrocytes in lacunae, determine how 'bendy' our cartilage is.

When looking through a microscope, chondrocytes look similar to eyeballs floating in goo. Have you ever served eyeball soup for Halloween? This is the perfect way to describe cartilage connective tissue. The eyeballs are our chondrocytes, and the soup is the matrix they live in. That's the easiest way to determine what type of cartilage you're talking about - the number of 'eyeballs' in the soup.

Elastic Cartilage

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. If you look at the slide below, which is what elastic cartilage looks like under a microscope, you'll note quite a few chondrocytes.

Elastic cartilage has the most chondrocytes.
tissue slide of elastic cartilage

Hyaline Cartilage

Hyaline cartilage is the second most flexible, and this cartilage is found in your nose and at the end of your ribs. Again, note the chondrocytes in this tissue; you'll notice there are fewer than in the elastic cartilage tissue slide.

Fewer chondrocytes in hyaline cartilage make it less flexible than elastic cartilage.
Hyaline cartilage


Fibrocartilage is the cartilage with the fewest number of chondrocytes, which means it bends the least. This is the type of cartilage found in your knee, as well as in between the vertebrae in your spine. Note how many chondrocytes are on the slide below - only three! This makes sense, right? You want something like your nose or ear that can be damaged easily to be 'bendy,' so they don'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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