The use of scanning electrochemical microscopy, a high-resolution chemical imaging technique, to probe the distribution and mobility of solutes in articular cartilage is described. In this application, a mobile ultramicroelectrode is positioned close (not, vert, similar1 μm) to the cartilage sample surface, which has been equilibrated in a bathing solution containing the solute of interest. The solute is electrolyzed at a diffusion-limited rate, and the current response measured as the ultramicroelectrode is scanned across the sample surface. The topography of the samples was determined using Ru(CN)64−, a solute to which the cartilage matrix was impermeable. This revealed a number of pit-like depressions corresponding to the distribution of chondrocytes, which were also observed by atomic force and light microscopy. Subsequent imaging of the same area of the cartilage sample for the diffusion-limited reduction of oxygen indicated enhanced, but heterogeneous, permeability of oxygen across the cartilage surface. In particular, areas of high permeability were observed in the cellular and pericellular regions. This is the first time that inhomogeneities in the permeability of cartilage toward simple solutes, such as oxygen, have been observed on a micrometer scale
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