The presence of progenitor/stem cells in human articular cartilage remains controversial. Therefore, we attempted to isolate and culture progenitor/stem cells and to investigate their phenotypic characteristics. Biopsies were obtained (with consent) from patients undergoing arthroscopic surgery. Full depth explants were fixed and cryosectioned or enzymatically digested and the resulting cells cultured and plated on fibronectin-coated dishes. Chondrocytes were cultured until colonies of >32 cells were present. Colonies were trypsinized and expanded in monolayer for pellet culture. Immunolocalization of Notch and its ligands were detected in vivo and in vitro using immunocytochemistry. In vitro studies investigated differences in immunolocalization of Notch and its associated ligands in colony-forming cells and small clusters of non-colony-forming cells. The ultrastructure of the chondroprogenitors was examined by scanning and transmission electron microscopy. Results revealed that the immunolocalization of Notch-1 and its ligand Delta were concentrated in regions closest to the articular surface. Notch-1 was also densely localized in the deeper zone of articular cartilage. Notch-2 immunolabeling was densely localized in all zones of articular cartilage. Jagged-1 was concentrated in the deeper regions of articular cartilage. Notch-1, Delta and Jagged-1 were more abundant in colony-forming cells than non-colony-forming chondrocytes in vitro. Notch-3, Notch-4 and Jagged-2 were absent from all regions of the articular cartilage tissues and cultured cartilage cells in vitro. Ultrastructurally, chondrocytes cultured in monolayer dedifferentiated to fibroblast-like cells with cell surface processes of varying lengths, pellet cultured cells varied in morphology, as flattened and rounded. In conclusion, we propose that adult human articular cartilage may contain cells having progenitor cell features.