We have prepared a monoclonal antibody, named MZ15, that specifically binds keratan sulfate. Immunofluorescence studies showed that the distribution of keratan sulfate in articular cartilage was not uniform: the amount of keratan sulfate increased with distance from the articular surface. Two subpopulations of chondrocytes could be distinguished after isolation from cartilage by the presence or absence of cell surface keratan sulfate. Keratan sulfate-negative chondrocytes were shown to come from the upper cartilage layers. There was therefore a direct correlation between biochemical heterogeneity of cartilage matrix and heterogeneity within the chondrocyte population. During growth in monolayer culture, superficial chondrocytes began to synthesize keratan sulfate, but the cells could still be distinguished from cultures of deep or unfractionated chondrocytes by their reduced substrate adhesiveness and tendency to remain rounded.