For autologous chondrocyte transplantation, articular chondrocytes are harvested from cartilage tissue and expanded in vitro in monolayer culture. We aimed to characterize with a cellular resolution the synthesis of collagen type II (COL2) and collagen type I (COL1) during expansion in order to further understand why these cells lose the potential to form cartilage tissue when re-introduced into a microenvironment that supports chondrogenesis. During expansion for six passages, levels of transcripts encoding COL2 decreased to <0.1%, whereas transcript levels encoding COL1 increased 370-fold as compared to primary chondrocytes. Flow cytometry for intracellular proteins revealed that chondrocytes acquired a COL2/COL1-double positive phenotype during expansion, and the COL2 positive cells were able to enter the cell cycle. While the fraction of COL2 positive cells decreased from 70% to <2% in primary chondrocytes to passage six cells, the fraction of COL1 positive cells increased from <1% to >95%. In parallel to the decrease of the fraction of COL2 positive cells, the cells' potential to form cartilage-like tissue in pellet cultures steadily decreased. Intracellular staining for COL2 enables for characterization of chondrocyte lineage cells in more detail with a cellular resolution, and it may allow predicting the effectiveness of expanded chondrocytes to form cartilage-like tissue. © 2014 Orthopaedic Research Society. Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Orthop Res 32:1503–1511, 2014.