Osteoarthritis is a major cause of disability and early retirement. Yet we lack the means to diagnose the disease in its early stages or to monitor the effects of treatment on the target tissue, the joint cartilage. Neither can we identify the disease mechanisms at the tissue or cell level. Current research focuses on the use of markers of cartilage matrix metabolism in body fluids as a means to diagnose and monitor osteoarthritis. Cartilage proteoglycan, collagen and glycoprotein fragments, as well as proteinases and their inhibitors, are being suggested for this purpose. Structural information on matrix molecule fragments released into body fluids may also help to identify the enzymes active in the destruction of the cartilage, a central issue in osteoarthritis.