Chondrocytes are surrounded by a narrow pericellular matrix (PCM) that is biochemically, structurally, and biomechanically distinct from the bulk extracellular matrix (ECM) of articular cartilage. While the PCM is often defined by the presence of type VI collagen, other macromolecules such as perlecan, a heparan sulfate (HS) proteoglycan, are also exclusively localized to the PCM in normal cartilage and likely contribute to PCM structural integrity and biomechanical properties. Though perlecan is essential for normal cartilage development, its exact role in the PCM is unknown. The objective of this study was to determine the biomechanical role of perlecan in the articular cartilage PCM in situ and its potential as a defining factor of the PCM. To this end, atomic force microscopy (AFM) stiffness mapping was combined with dual immunofluorescence labeling of cryosectioned porcine cartilage samples for type VI collagen and perlecan. While there was no difference in overall PCM mechanical properties between type VI collagen- and perlecan-based definitions of the PCM, within the PCM, interior regions containing both type VI collagen and perlecan exhibited lower elastic moduli than more peripheral regions rich in type VI collagen alone. Enzymatic removal of HS chains from perlecan with heparinase III increased PCM elastic moduli both overall and locally in interior regions rich in both perlecan and type VI collagen. Heparinase III digestion had no effect on ECM elastic moduli. Our findings provide new evidence for perlecan as a defining factor in both the biochemical and biomechanical properties of the PCM.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)320-327
Number of pages8
JournalMatrix Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • Atomic force microscopy
  • Chondrocyte
  • Chondron
  • Heparan sulfate
  • Proteoglycan
  • Scanning probe microscope
  • Type VI collagen


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