Hyaline cartilage contains five well-characterized proteoglycans in its extracellular matrix, and it is likely that others exist. The largest in size and most abundant by weight is aggrecan, a proteoglycan that possesses over 100 chondroitin sulfate and keratan sulfate chains. Aggrecan is also characterized by its ability to interact with hyaluronic acid to form large proteoglycan aggregates. Both the high anionic charge on the individual aggrecan molecules endowed by the sulfated glycosaminoglycan chains and the localization within the matrix endowed by aggregate formation are essential for aggrecan function. The molecule provides cartilage with its osmotic properties, which give articular cartilage its ability to resist compressive loads. The other proteoglycans are characterized by their ability to interact with collagen. They are much smaller than aggrecan in size but may be present in similar molar amounts. Decorin, biglycan, and fibromodulin are closely related in protein structure but differ in glycosaminoglycan composition and function. Decorin and biglycan possess one and two dermatan sulfate chains, respectively, whereas fibromodulin bears several keratan sulfate chains. Decorin and fibromodulin both interact with the type II collagen fibrils in the matrix and may play a role in fibrillogenesis and interfibril interactions. Biglycan is preferentially localized in the pericellular matrix, where it may interact with type VI collagen. Finally, type IX collagen can also be considered as a proteoglycan, as its α2(IX) chain may bear a glycosaminoglycan chain. It may serve as a bridge between the collagen fibrils or with the interspersed aggrecan network. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.