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What is Cartilage?
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What is Cartilage?

Cartilage is a tough but flexible tissue that is the main type of connective tissue in the body. Around 65–80% of cartilage is water, although that decreases in older people, and the rest is a gel-like substance called the ‘matrix’ that gives it its form and function.

The matrix is highly organised and consists of several types of specialist proteins, called:

The proteoglycan and noncollagenous proteins bind, or stick to the collagen, which forms a mesh. Water is attracted to the mesh by negatively charged proteins. Together, these give the matrix its consistency.

There are three main types of cartilage:

They have different properties that correspond to their specific functions in the body and make it the most appropriate type of cartilage at that particular site.

In the joints, hyaline cartilage forms a very low friction, 2-4 mm thick layer that coats the bony surfaces. This allows the bones of the joint to glide over one another during movement and, ideally, last a lifetime. It also serves as a cushion and shock absorber in the joint.

The articular cartilage matrix is produced and maintained by a group of cartilage cells inside the matrix known as ‘chondrocytes’. These come from a mesh of connective tissue in the embryo called the ‘mesenchyme’.

The volume of cells in the cartilage is small, making up about 1%–2% of the tissue volume in adults. Cartilage contains no blood vessels (avascular), no nerves (aneural) and no lymphatic system (alymphatic). Nutrients have to diffuse through the matrix.

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