A preliminary investigation into the diagnostic potential of an infrared fiber optic probe (IFOP) for evaluating degenerative human articular cartilage is described. Twelve arthritic human tibial plateaus obtained during arthroplasty were analyzed using the IFOP. Infrared spectra were obtained from IFOP contact with articular surface sites visually graded normal or degraded (Collins Scale grade 1 and grade 3, respectively). Comparisons of infrared spectral parameters (peak heights and areas) were made to elucidate spectral indicators of surface degeneration. IFOP spectral analysis revealed subtle but consistent changes between grades 1 and 3 sites. Infrared absorbance bands arising from type II collagen were observed to change with degradation. More degraded tissues exhibited increased amide II (1590-1480 cm<sup>-1</sup>)/1338 cm<sup>-1</sup> area ratio (<i>p</i>=0.034) and decreased 1238/1227 cm<sup>-1</sup> peak ratio (<i>p</i> = 0.017); similar changes were seen with Fourier transform infrared imaging spectroscopy (FT-IRIS) analysis. Grades 1 and 3 cartilage showed consistent spectral differences in the amide II, III, and 1338 cm<sup>-1</sup> regions that are likely related to type II collagen degradation that accompanies cartilage degeneration. These results suggest that it may be possible to monitor subtle changes related to early cartilage degeneration, allowing for IFOP use during arthroscopy for <i>in situ</i> determination of cartilage integrity.
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