We have correlated early material and biochemical changes in articular cartilage in a surgical model for cartilage degeneration. Medial meniscectomy was performed on the left knee of 17 adult, female New Zealand white rabbits. The equilibrium Young's modulus of cartilage was assessed by an indentation test in situ at defined sites on the medial and lateral tibial plateaus of the operated and control knees; the cartilage was then excised and analyzed biochemically. Focal changes were consistently observed in the medial surface of the operated knee. The equilibrium modulus and the glycosaminoglycan content fell rapidly, reaching a minimum by 2 weeks after surgery; the lateral tibial surface was essentially unaffected. Six months after surgery, the glycosaminoglycan content had returned to normal and the modulus to near normal. Independent measurements on cored plugs from the medial surface 2 weeks after surgery revealed a significant decrease in both the dynamic stiffness and the streaming potential in the operated knee compared with the control. The findings suggest that normal ambulatory loads in vivo will deform the affected medial cartilage much more than normal. It remains to be seen if altered mechanical stresses are solely responsible for initiating and sustaining matrix remodeling by the chondrocytes.