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Chondrocytes

Annakay Newell, Laura Enzor
  • Author
    Annakay Newell

    Annakay Newell has taught in the biological and environmental science fields for over ten years. She has a PhD in plant pathology from the University of Georgia, a MSc in plant pathology from the University of Arkansas and a BSc in Biology from the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff.

  • 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.

Discover where chondrocytes are located. Understand their function, purpose, and structure. Learn what happens when chondrocytes don't function properly, as well. Updated: 12/11/2021

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What are Chondrocytes?

The word chondrocyte is derived from the Greek word chondros which means cartilage and kytos which means cell. Chondrocytes are specialized types of cells that are responsible for forming, and are only found in, cartilage. Cartilage is a soft, firm, flexible, and resilient connective tissue that serves as an important structural component in the body. It functions in covering and protecting the bones at the joints. Chondrocytes are found within the lacunae. The number of chondrocytes found in cartilage determines its flexibility or how much it can bend.

Structure of Chondrocytes

The cartilage matrix is composed of fibrous tissue and different combinations of proteoglycans (glycosylated proteins) and glycosaminoglycans (linear polysaccharides). Chondrocytes are found in the cartilage matrix in cavities called the lacunae. Juvenile chondrocytes have an elongated shape but become rounded or polygonal as the cartilage frame moves inward. Chondrocytes do not communicate by coming in contact with each other. Instead, signals are diffused through the matrix in which they are embedded.

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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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Chondrocytes embedded in cartilage matrix

Chondrocytes embedded in matrix

Chondrocytes Function

Chondrocytes function in forming the cartilage matrix and maintaining the extracellular matrix. They maintain a stable environment within the joints that creates insulation while they move. Chondrocytes do this by synthesizing type II collagen, proteoglycan, and other proteins such as enzymes that degrade certain matrix components. Chondrocytes, therefore, control the synthesis and breakdown of cartilage in the body.

Cartilage

Cartilage functions in providing a framework for bones to form. It gives shape and provides support for other tissues in the body while cushioning the joints. It protects the joint against weight-bearing and allows smooth bending and straightening by reducing friction. Cartilage is more extensive in the skeleton of infants but, during growth, it is replaced by bone. There are three types of cartilage that are characterized by the fibers that they contain.

  • Hyaline- the most common type of cartilage that lines bones in joints. It is glass-like and semitransparent and is mainly found in the ribs, nose, larynx, and trachea. This type of cartilage provides a cushion and prevents bones from rubbing together.
  • Fibrocartilage- also called white cartilage, is mainly found in intervertebral disks or insertions of tendons and ligaments in places such as the knee. This type of cartilage is very strong as it supports areas that require enough resistance to withstand high tension. It has a large number of collagen fibers.
  • Elastic cartilage- also called yellow fibrocartilage, is commonly found in parts of the body such as the ears. It provides both strength and elasticity and helps certain structures such as the ear maintain their shape. It also provides reduces friction and prevents bones from rubbing together. Elastic cartilage has the highest number of chondrocytes.

The human ear is made of elastic cartilage which shapes it

Human ear made of elastic cartilage

Although cartilage does not have any blood vessels, nutrients and other metabolites enter the cartilage matrix by diffusion. The healing process in cartilage is very slow because of the lack of direct blood supply. The breakdown of cartilage can be a natural degenerative process as the body ages. Problems such as herniated disks, where the soft center of a spinal disk protrudes through the outer casing, are common among cases of cartilage degeneration. Injury to cartilage can also cause a variety of ailments. Symptoms of cartilage damage can range from severe pain and limited movement to joint deformity. For example, the breakdown of cartilage can cause osteoarthritis, the most common arthritis, affecting millions of people around the world. This condition causes the degeneration of cartilage leading to swelling, pain, and a reduction in joint movement.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are chondrocytes and what do they make?

Chondrocytes are specialized types of cells that are responsible for making cartilage. They are only found in the cartilage where they synthesize type II collagen, proteoglycan, and other proteins such as enzymes that degrade certain matrix components.

What is the function of chondrocytes?

Chondrocytes are specialized types of cells that are responsible for forming and are only found in cartilage. They maintain a stable environment within the joints that creates insulation while they move. Chondrocytes control the synthesis and breakdown of cartilage in the body.

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