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Since 1960, numerous studies have supported the thesis that the synthetic activity of articular chondrocytes is increased in osteoarthritis, but several recent reports have challenged this concept. To clarify this problem fully and also to define further the products of this increased synthesis, three experiments were performed in which the distribution and rates of synthesis of amino sugar-containing macromolecules in normal and osteoarthritic cartilage from the human femoral head were assessed by biochemical analysis and studies of the incorporation of 3H-glucosamine and 35SO4. The biochemical data obtained clearly demonstrated the previously noted significant decrease in hexosamine content in osteoarthritic tissue. This decrease was principally due to a diminution in glucosamine concentration and correlated inversely with the severity of the disease process (as measured by a previously described histological-histochemical grading system). Metabolic studies showed a marked increment in the rates of incorporation of 3H-glucosamine into both the glucosamine and the galactosamine fractions of the cartilage. The increased synthesis correlated directly in a non-linear fashion with the severity of the disease. The ratio of the rate of incorporation of 3H-glucosamine into the glucosamine fraction to the rate of its incorporation into the galactosamine fraction was the same in normal and osteoarthritic samples, suggesting that the decline in glucosamine concentration was not related to a qualitative alteration of synthetic activity.