Vitrified articular cartilage reveals novel ultra-structural features respecting extracellular matrix architecture

Histochem Cell Biol. 1996 Oct;106(4):375-82. doi: 10.1007/BF02473296.


The quality of cryosections prepared from high pressure frozen bovine articular cartilage has been recently evaluated by systematic electron diffraction analysis, and vitrification found to be zone-dependent. The lower radial layer was optimally frozen throughout the entire section thickness (150 microns), whereas in the upper radial, transitional and superficial layers this was achieved down to a depth of only approximately 5-50 microns. These differences were found to correlate proportionally with proteoglycan concentration and inversely with water content. In the current investigation, extracellular matrix ultrastructure was examined in high pressure frozen material (derived from the lower radial zone of young adult bovine articular cartilage), by both cryoelectron microscopy of cryosections and by conventional transmission electron microscopy of freeze-substituted and embedded samples. Several novel features were revealed, in particular, the existence of a fine filamentous network; this consisted of elements 10-15 nm in diameter and with a regular cross-banded structure similar to that characterising collagen fibrils. These filaments were encountered throughout the entire extracellular space, even within the pericellular region, which is generally believed to be free of filamentous or fibrillar components. The proteoglycan-rich interfibrillar/filamentous space manifested a fine granular appearance, there being no evidence of the reticular network previously seen in suboptimally frozen material.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cartilage, Articular / chemistry
  • Cartilage, Articular / ultrastructure*
  • Cattle
  • Collagen / analysis*
  • Collagen / ultrastructure
  • Cryopreservation / methods*
  • Cryoultramicrotomy / methods
  • Extracellular Matrix / chemistry
  • Extracellular Matrix / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Intermediate Filaments / physiology
  • Intermediate Filaments / ultrastructure


  • Collagen