Orientation of primary cilia of articular chondrocytes in three-dimensional space

Anat Rec (Hoboken). 2011 Mar;294(3):533-49. doi: 10.1002/ar.21330. Epub 2011 Jan 12.


Primary cilia have functions as sensory organelles integral to signal transduction and establishment of cell polarity. In articular cartilage the primary cilium has been hypothesized to function as an antenna to sense the biomechanical environment, regulate the secretion of extracellular matrix components, and maintain cellular positional information, leading to high tissue anisotropy. We used analysis of electron microscopy serial sections to demonstrate positional attributes of the primary cilium of adult equine articular chondrocytes in situ. Data for ~500 axonemes, comparing superficial to radiate chondrocytes from both load-bearing and non-load-bearing regions, were graphed using spherical co-ordinates θ, φ. The data demonstrate the axoneme has a definable orientation in 3D space differing in superficial and radiate zone chondrocytes, cells that differ by 90° in the orientation of their major axes to the articular surface. Axonemal orientation is more definable in load-bearing than in non-load-bearing areas. The position of emergence of the axoneme from the cell also is variable. In load-bearing regions of the superficial zone, extension of the axoneme is from the cellular side facing the subchondral bone. In radiate zone cells, axonemes extend from either face of the chondrocyte, that is, both toward the articular surface or toward the subchondral bone. In non-load-bearing regions this consistency is lost. These observations relate to current hypotheses concerning establishment of tissue anisotropy in articular cartilage during development, involving both migration of cells from the joint periphery and a restricted zone of division within the tissue resulting in the columnar arrangement of radiate zone cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axoneme / ultrastructure*
  • Cartilage, Articular / ultrastructure*
  • Chondrocytes / ultrastructure*
  • Cilia / ultrastructure*
  • Horses
  • Mathematical Computing
  • Organelles