In articular cartilage, chondrocytes are surrounded by a pericellular matrix (PCM), which together with the chondrocyte have been termed the "chondron." While the precise function of the PCM is not know there has been considerable speculation that it plays a role in regulating the biomechanical environment of the chondrocyte. In this study, we measured the Young's modulus of the PCM from normal and osteoarthritic cartilage using the micropipette aspiration technique, coupled with a newly developed axisymmetric elastic layered half-space model of the experimental configuration. Viable, intact chondrons were extracted from human articular cartilage using a new microaspiration-based isolation technique. In normal cartilage, the Young's modulus of the PCM was similar in chondrons isolated from the surface zone (68.9 +/- 18.9 kPa) as compared to the middle and deep layers (62.0 +/- 30.5 kPa). However, the mean Young's modulus of the PCM (pooled for the two zones) was significantly decreased in osteoarthritic cartilage (66.5 +/- 23.3 kPa versus 41.3 +/- 21.1 kPa, p < 0.001). In combination with previous theoretical models of cell-matrix interactions in cartilage, these findings suggest that the PCM has an important influence on the stress-strain environment of the chondrocyte that potentially varies with depth from the cartilage surface. Furthermore, the significant loss of PCM stiffness that was observed in osteoarthritic cartilage may affect the magnitude and distribution of biomechanical signals perceived by the chondrocytes.