The divalent cations Ca, P and Zn have been reported to play an important role in the normal growth and remodelling of articular cartilage and subchondral bone and in the degenerative and inflammatory processes associated with osteoarthritis (OA). In particular, they act as co-factors of a class of enzymes known as metalloproteinases, believed to be active during the initiation, progress and remodelling processes associated with the disease. The relative presence of cations and anions, in particular the ions Na2+ and Cl-, is also intimately associated with the fixed charge density (FCD) of cartilage, neutralizing the highly charged structure associated with for instance chondroitin sulphate. Finally, structural components of bone can be expected to result from dietary intake, yielding for instance strontium apatite and fluorapatite that form inclusions in the calcium hydroxyapatite of bone. In the present investigation, thin sections of articular cartilage affected by OA have been examined using a combination of physical techniques: low energy synchrotron micro X-ray fluorescence (mu-SXRF), micro proton induced X-ray emission (mu-PIXE) and micro proton-induced gamma emission (mu-PIGE), primarily to investigate the distribution of essential cations and anions. The combination of these physical techniques offers the ability to make comprehensive assessment of the elemental content of such tissues, simultaneous mappings of a range of relatively low atomic number ions being obtained over quite large areas (similar to few mm(2)). Such capability has only become a realistic prospect in recent times. (C) 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.