The functional integrity of articular cartilage is dependent on the maintenance of the extracellular matrix (ECM), a process which is controlled by chondrocytes. The regulation of ECM biosynthesis is complex and a variety of substances have been found to influence chondrocyte metabolism. In the present study we have investigated the effect of degraded collagen on the formation of type II collagen by mature bovine chondrocytes in a cell culture model. The culture medium was supplemented with collagen hydrolysate (CH) and biosynthesis of type II collagen by chondrocytes was compared to control cells treated with native type I and type II collagen and a collagen-free protein hydrolysate. The quantification of type II collagen by means of an ELISA technique was confirmed by immunocytochemical detection as well as by the incorporation of (14)C-proline in the ECM after a 48 h incubation. Chondrocytes in the control group were maintained in the basal medium for 11 days. The presence of extracellular CH led to a dose-dependent increase in type II collagen secretion. However, native collagens as well as a collagen-free hydrolysate of wheat proteins failed to stimulate the production of type II collagen in chondrocytes. These results clearly indicate a stimulatory effect of degraded collagen on the type II collagen biosynthesis of chondrocytes and suggest a possible feedback mechanism for the regulation of collagen turnover in cartilage tissue.