The chondrocytes of adult articular cartilage rely upon transport phenomena within their avascular extracellular matrix for many biological activities. Therefore, changes in matrix structure which influence cytokine transport parameters may be an important mechanism involved in the chondrocyte response to tissue compression. With this hypothesis in mind, partitioning and diffusion of 3-, 10-, and 40-kDa dextrans conjugated to tetramethylrhodamine, and 430-Da tetramethylrhodamine itself, were measured within statically compressed bovine articular cartilage explants using a novel experimental apparatus and desorption fluorescence method. Partitioning and diffusion were examined as functions of solute molecular weight and matrix proteoglycan density, and diffusion was measured versus static compression up to 35% volumetric strain. In general, partition coefficients and diffusivities were found to decrease with increasing solute molecular weight. In addition, for a given solute, diffusivities decreased significantly with increasing static compression. Results therefore suggest a possible role for transport limitations of relatively large molecular weight solutes within the extracellular matrix in mediating the biological response of chondrocytes to cartilage compression.