Using the knee joints of New Zealand White rabbits, a baseline study was made to determine the intrinsic capability of cartilage for healing defects that do not fracture the subchondral plate. A second experiment examined the effect of autologous chondrocytes grown in vitro on the healing rate of these defects. To determine whether any of the reconstituted cartilage resulted from the chondrocyte graft, a third experiment was conducted involving grafts with chondrocytes that had been labeled prior to grafting with a nuclear tracer. Results were evaluated using both qualitative and quantitative light microscopy. Macroscopic results from grafted specimens displayed a marked decrease in synovitis and other degenerative changes. In defects that had received transplants, a significant amount of cartilage was reconstituted (82%) compared to ungrafted controls (18%). Autoradiography on reconstituted cartilage showed that there were labeled cells incorporated into the repair matrix.