The goal of this review is to examine the fate of the hypertrophic chondrocyte in the epiphyseal growth plate and consider the impact of the cartilage microenvironment on cell survival and apoptosis. Early investigations pointed to a direct role of the hypertrophic chondrocyte in osteogenesis. The terminally differentiated cells were considered to undergo a dramatic change in shape, size, and phenotype, and assume the characteristics of an osteoblast. While some studies have supported the notion of transdifferentiation, much of the evidence in favor of reprogramming epiphyseal chondrocytes is circumstantial and based on microscopic evaluation of cells that are present at the chondro-osseous junction. Although these investigations provided a novel perspective on endochondral bone formation, they were flawed by the failure to consider the importance of stem cells in osseous tissue formation. Subsequent studies indicated that many, if not all, of the cells of the cartilage plate die through the induction of apoptosis. With respect to agents that mediate apoptosis, at the chondro-osseous junction, solubilization of mineral and hydrolysis of organic matrix constituents by septoclasts generates high local concentrations of ions, peptides, and glycans, and secreted matrix metalloproteins. Individually, and in combination, a number of these agents serve as potent chondrocyte apoptogens. We present a new concept: hypertrophic cells die through the induction of autophagy. In the cartilage microenvironment, combinations of local factors cause chondrocytes to express an initial survival phenotype and oxidize their own structural macromolecules to generate ATP. While delaying death, autophagy leads to a state in which cells are further sensitized to changes in the local microenvironment. One such change is similar to ischemia reperfusion injury, a condition that leads to tissue damage and cell death. In the growth cartilage, an immediate effect of this type of injury is sensitization to local apoptogens. These two concepts (type II programmed cell death and ischemia reperfusion injury) emphasize the importance of the local microenvironment, in particular pO2, in directing chondrocyte survival and apoptosis. Birth Defects Research (Part C) 75:330–339, 2005. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.