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Keywords:

  • mechanical forces;
  • muscle contractions;
  • bone;
  • joints;
  • ossification;
  • immobilization

Abstract

A range of clinical conditions in which fetal movement is reduced or prevented can have a severe effect on skeletal development. Animal models have been instrumental to our understanding of the interplay between mechanical forces and skeletal development, particularly the mouse and the chick model systems. In the chick, the most commonly used means of altering the mechanical environment is by pharmaceutical agents which induce paralysis, whereas genetically modified mice with nonfunctional or absent skeletal muscle offer a valuable tool for examining the interplay between muscle forces and skeletogenesis in mammals. This article reviews the body of research on animal models of bone or joint formation in vivo in the presence of an altered or abnormal mechanical environment. In both immobilized chicks and “muscleless limb” mice, a range of effects are seen, such as shorter rudiments with less bone formation, changes in rudiment and joint shape, and abnormal joint cavitation. However, although all bones and synovial joints are affected in immobilized chicks, some rudiments and joints are unaffected in muscleless mice. We propose that extrinsic mechanical forces from movements of the mother or littermates impact on skeletogenesis in mammals, whereas the chick embryo is reliant on intrinsic movement for mechanical stimulation. The insights gained from animal models into the mechanobiology of embryonic skeletal development could provide valuable cues to prospective tissue engineers of cartilage and bone and contribute to new or improved treatments to minimize the impact on skeletal development of reduced movement in utero. Birth Defects Research (Part C) 90:203–213, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.