Although corticosteroids have been shown to cause articular cartilage degeneration, recent studies of experimentally induced osteoarthritis indicate that under certain conditions they may protect against cartilage damage and osteophyte formation. The present study examines the in vivo effect of triamcinolone hexacetonide on the degeneration of articular cartilage which occurs following intraarticular injection of sodium iodoacetate. Three weeks after a single injection of iodoacetate into the knees of guinea pigs, ipsilateral femoral condylar cartilage exhibited fibrillation, loss of staining with Safranin O, depletion of chondrocytes, and prominent osteophytes. In striking contrast, when triamcinolone hexacetonide was injected into the ipsilateral knee 24 hours after the intraarticular injection of iodoacetate, fibrillation was noted in only 1 of 6 samples, osteophytes were much less prominent, pericellular staining with Safranin O persisted, and cell loss was less extensive. Knees of animals which received only one-tenth as much intraarticular triamcinolone hexacetonide after the iodoacetate injection also exhibited marked reduction in size and extent of osteophytes. However, the degree of fibrillation, loss of Safranin O staining, and chondrocyte depletion was similar to that observed in animals injected with iodoacetate but not treated with intraarticular steroid. No apparent morphologic or histochemical changes were observed after intraarticular injection of the steroid preparation alone. Thus, triamcinolone hexacetonide produced a marked, dose-dependent protective effect in this model of chemically induced articular cartilage damage.