Chondrocytes are cells found in cartilage connective tissue.

Chondrocytes are an important part of the cartilage matrix. Learn more about their function and the three types of cartilage in which a chondrocyte can be found.

What are Chondrocytes?

Chondrocytes, or chondrocytes in lacunae, are cells found in cartilage connective tissue. The number of chondrocytes found in cartilage determines how ‘bendy’ the cartilage is. When looking through a microscope, chondrocytes look similar to eyeballs floating in goo. Remember the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? That section of the movie when they are eating eyeball soup? That’s the easiest way to determine what type of cartilage you’re talking about, the number of ‘eyeballs’ in the soup.

Function

So what, exactly, do chondrocytes do? Since chondrocytes are the only cells located in cartilage, they produce and maintain the cartilage matrix. So what is a cartilage matrix? If you look at the name ‘chondrocyte in lacunae,’ ‘lacunae’ is Latin for ‘lake.

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‘ That’s exactly what the matrix is – a type of lake in which the chondrocytes ‘swim.’This may lead you to ask why cartilage is important in the first place. One of the principal functions of some cartilage types is to keep bones from rubbing together. We call this reducing friction. Imagine rubbing two pieces of sandpaper together. The pieces of sand in the paper rub against one another and, after a while, you get a pile of dust, right? Imagine the two pieces of sandpaper were the ends of your bones. That would start to hurt! Now imagine putting a piece of regular paper in between the two pieces of sandpaper.

Now the friction is reduced, and the sandpaper moves much easier.

Cartilage Types

There are three types of cartilage found in the human body.

  • Elastic cartilage is the most flexible, which means it contains the most chondrocytes.

    This is the type of cartilage found in your ear.

  • Hyaline cartilage is the second most flexible. This cartilage is found in your nose and at the end of your ribs.
  • Fibro-cartilage is the cartilage with the fewest number of chondrocytes, which means it is the least flexible. This is the type of cartilage found in your knee as well as in-between the vertebrae in your spine.

The flexibility level of the various cartilages makes sense, right? You want something like your nose or ear that can be damaged easily to be ‘bendy,’ so it doesn’t break. However, you don’t want your knees or spine to be unstable, so a more rigid cartilage is the way to go!

Dysfunctional Chondrocytes

Sometimes chondrocytes don’t function properly, which means the cartilage isn’t formed correctly, or cartilage gets damaged by an accident. When elastic cartilage doesn’t form right or is damaged, it’s not too big of a deal. We don’t all need perfect ears, do we? But think of the other places where we find hyaline and fibro-cartilage. If there’s no cartilage, that means there’s nothing to decrease friction between our bones. Think of the sandpaper example.

No cartilage would mean no regular paper to decrease friction between our two pieces of sandpaper. Can you imagine not having a functional knee? Or having a spine that isn’t cushioned at all? Ouch!

Lesson Summary

Chondrocytes, or chondrocytes in lacunae, are cells found in cartilage connective tissue. They are the only cells located in cartilage. They produce and maintain the cartilage matrix, which is a type of lake in which the chondrocytes swim.

There are three types of cartilage found in the human body, including elastic cartilage, the most flexible; hyaline cartilage, the second most flexible; and fibro-cartilage, the least flexible. Additionally, there are instances when cartilage doesn’t function properly or isn’t formed correctly. While this isn’t a big deal for elastic cartilage, it can be a severe problem with hyaline or fibro-cartilage.

Chondrocytes: Terms & Definitions

chondrocytecartilage
Terms Definitions
Chondrocytes/chondrocytes in lacunae cells found in cartilage connective tissue
Cartilage matrix a type of lake in which the chondrocytes ‘swim’
Reducing friction purpose of cartilage is to keep bone from rubbing on bone
Elastic cartilage the most flexible; found in your ear
Hyaline cartilage the second most flexible; found in your nose and at the end of your ribs
Fibro-cartilage the least flexible; found in your knee and in-between the vertebrae in your spine

Learning Outcomes

Upon completing this lesson on chondrocytes, you should have the ability to:

  • Define chondrocytes and recognize what they look like
  • Highlight the functions of chondrocytes
  • Describe the three types of cartilage in the human body
  • Sum up the problems that occur when cartilage doesn’t function as it should
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