Changes in excitatory amino acid (EAA) levels were examined in the knee joint dialysates of rats with early osteoarthritis (OA). Early OA was induced by anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) transection in one knee and the contralateral knee was used as the sham-operated control, the side for ACL transection being assigned randomly. Twenty weeks after operation, knee joint dialysates were collected by microdialysis and assayed for EAAs by high performance liquid chromatography. The rats were then sacrificed for histopathological examination. Hematoxylin/eosin and Safranin-O staining showed cartilage fibrillation, clustering of chondrocytes, and a reduction in matrix proteoglycans at week 20 in the ACL-transected knee, but not in the sham-operated knee. Levels of glutamate and aspartate in dialysates from the ACL-transected knee were significantly increased by 92 +/- 20.3% or 57 +/- 17.5%, respectively, compared to those in the contralateral sham-operated knee. This increase may contribute to the pathogenesis of early OA.