The aim of this study was to characterize the cellular phenotypes of articular cartilage and meniscus in rabbits with experimentally induced osteoarthritis (OA), by histological and molecular biological techniques. OA was induced by severing the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee and rabbits were killed 2, 4 or 9 weeks following surgery. Our histological observations show a progressive destruction of extracellular matrix in both tissues. To determine whether these morphological changes could be related to alterations in the regulation of gene expression for a subset of relevant molecules, levels of mRNA for proteinases and one inhibitor (MMP-1, -3 and -13, aggrecanase-1 and -2 and TIMP-1), matrix molecules and one chaperone (type II and X collagens, aggrecan, osteonectin, betaig-h3 and BiP) were assessed by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. Our results indicate that for most markers expression profiles were similar in both tissues. In particular, matrix protein gene expression remained stable or varied little during progression of OA, suggesting a poor repair capacity of the tissues. MMP gene expression increased rapidly whereas aggrecanase gene expression remained stable. These findings suggest that differential regulation of mRNA levels of MMP-1, -3 and -13 on the one hand and aggrecanase-1 and -2 on the other, occurs during OA.