Although it is well accepted that implant success is dependent on various surface properties, little is known about the effect of surface roughness on cell metabolism or differentiation, or whether the effects vary with the maturational state of the cells interacting with the implant. In the current study, we examined the effect of titanium (Ti) surface roughness on chondrocyte proliferation, differentiation, and matrix synthesis using cells derived from known stages of endochondral development. Chondrocytes derived from the resting zone (RCs) and growth zone (GCs) of rat costochondral cartilage were cultured on Ti disks that were prepared as follows: HF-HNO3-treated and washed (PT); PT-treated and electropolished (EP); fine sand-blasted, HCl-H2SO4-etched, and washed (FA); coarse sand-blasted, HCl-H2SO4-etched, and washed (CA); or Ti plasma-sprayed (TPS). Based on surface analysis, the Ti surfaces were ranked from smoothest to roughest: EP, PT, FA, CA, and TPS. Cell proliferation was assessed by cell number and [3H]-thymidine incorporation, and RNA synthesis was assessed by [3H]-uridine incorporation. Differentiation was determined by alkaline phosphatase specific activity (AL-Pase). Matrix production was measured by [3H]-proline incorporation into collagenase-digestible (CDP) and noncollagenase-digestible (NCP) protein and by [35S]-sulfate incorporation into proteoglycan. GCs required two trypsinizations for complete removal from the culture disks; the number of cells released by the first trypsinization was generally decreased with increasing surface roughness while that released by the second trypsinization was increased. In RC cultures, cell number was similarly decreased on the rougher surfaces; only minimal numbers of RCs were released by a second trypsinization. [3H]-thymidine incorporation by RCs decreased with increasing surface roughness while that by GCs was increased. [3H]-Uridine incorporation by both GCs and RCs was greater on rough surfaces. Conversely, ALPase in the cell layer and isolated cells of both cell types was significantly decreased. GC CDP and NCP production was significantly decreased on rough surfaces while CDP production by RC cells was significantly decreased on smooth surfaces. [35S]-sulfate incorporation by RCs and GCs was decreased on all surfaces compared to tissue culture plastic. The results of this study indicate that surface roughness affects chondrocyte proliferation, differentiation, and matrix synthesis, and that this regulation is cell maturation dependent.