Chondrocytes exposed to nitric oxide (NO) or antibody to Fas undergo cell death by apoptosis. This study examines structural and functional properties of chondrocyte-derived apoptotic bodies. In NO treated cartilage, the dense pericellular matrix that normally surrounds the cells is degraded and apoptotic bodies accumulate within and in the vicinity of the chondrocyte lacunae. Functional analysis shows that apoptotic bodies isolated from NO-treated chondrocytes or cartilage produce pyrophosphate. The levels of pyrophosphate produced by apoptotic bodies are increased by pretreatment of the chondrocytes with transforming growth factor beta and decreased by interleukin 1. Apoptotic bodies contain alkaline phosphatase and NTP pyrophosphohydrolase activities and can precipitate calcium. These results suggest that chondrocyte-derived apoptotic bodies express functional properties that may contribute to the pathologic cartilage calcification observed in aging and osteoarthritis.