Cartilage is tough and smooth elastic tissue that performs a variety of essential functions in the body. Not only does cartilage cover and protect the ends of long bones, but it is also the primary structural component of the ears, nose, rib cage, and many other body parts. The human body contains three types of cartilage: elastic, fibrous, and hyaline. Unlike other types of tissue, cartilage possesses limited repair capabilities, making it prone to degeneration and damage. This can have various side effects, most notably osteoarthritis.
Cartilage has two main components: water and matrix, and until it decreases with age, roughly 85 percent is the former substance. The remaining 15 percent is the extracellular matrix, a complex network of proteins such as collagen and proteoglycans that regulate functions such as cell adhesion, cellular growth, and metabolism. Collagen provides cartilage with its tensile strength while the proteoglycans give cartilage its elastic properties. Chondrocytes are usually the only cells in healthy cartilage; they are responsible for producing and maintaining the matrix. Cartilage lacks blood supply, nerves, or a lymphatic system.
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