Fluorescein-isothiocyanate (FITC) labeled lectins were used to study the distribution pattern of specific binding-sites in histological sections of normal and osteoarthrotic articular cartilage from the mouse knee joint. Male inbred mice of the STR/1N-strain develop spontaneous arthrotic articular cartilage lesions on the medial condyle of tibia and femur. The varus-deformity of the knee joint leads to a recurrent medial patellar luxation with osteoarthrotic defects on the medial part of the facies patellaris femoris. It was demonstrated that the lectin staining pattern of osteoarthrotic articular cartilage, especially on the facies patellaris femoris, was different from that of normal articular cartilage. The differences in lectin staining corresponded to those observed between normal and fibrillated articular cartilage from human patellae. The normal articular cartilage of the mouse knee joint possessed lectin binding-sites for Concanavalin A (ConA) and wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), but not for Ulex europaeus agglutinin (UEA), soy bean agglutinin (SBA) and peanut agglutinin (PNA). In addition to the completely changed distribution pattern of ConA and WGA in osteoarthrotic cartilage, SBA, PNA and UEA developed distinct staining patterns particular to the fibrillated areas of arthrotic cartilage. The increased lectin-binding to arthrotic articular cartilage may be due to unmasking of sugars in the course of bondage breakdown in fibrillated cartilage or the production of pathological glycoproteins. It is evident that lectins can demonstrate minute differences between normal and arthrotic cartilage and it is concluded, therefore, that lectins are sensitive and specific tools for the study of degenerative joint diseases.