Objective. To study the distribution and synthesis of fibronectin (FN) in superficial and deep layers of normal articular cartilage.

Methods. Superficial and deep bovine and human articular cartilage slices were used to extract and quantitate FN by radioimmunoassay. Chondrocytes were also isolated by collagenase digestion for FN extraction and culture. Superficial and deep cartilage explants were cultured with and without stimulation by cytokines. Quantitation of newly synthesized FN was carried out by incubation with 35S-methionine. FN was purified on gelatin-agarose columns and further characterized by polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. FN messenger RNA (mRNA) was quantitated by Northern blot analysis.

Results. Freshly isolated bovine chondrocytes from deep cartilage contained 2.3 ± 0.2 times more FN than was found in superficial cells (P < 0.025). Deep cartilage explants contained 1.2 times more FN than was found in superficial tissue. Explants obtained from deep cartilage synthesized 2.4 times more FN per cell than did superficial tissues (P < 0.01). FN synthesis as a fraction of total protein synthesis was significantly greater in deep explants (P < 0.01) compared with superficial tissues. Isolated deep chondrocytes in culture synthesized 1.89 ± 0.33-fold more FN than did superficial cells (P < 0.05). Cytokine-stimulated superficial cartilage explants failed to respond in terms of FN synthesis. FN mRNA quantitation showed no significant differences between superficial and deep populations.

Conclusion. Since FN plays a major role in cell adhesion to damaged cartilage surfaces, our results suggest that modulation of FN synthesis near the articular surface of cartilage may be one of the factors that impede pannus invasion following an inflammatory insult to the joint.