Differential elongation of growth plates is the process by which growth-plate chondrocytes translate the same sequence of gene regulation into the appropriate timing pattern for a given rate of elongation. While some of the parameters associated with differential growth are known, the purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that eight independent variables are involved. We tested this hypothesis by considering four different growth plates in 28-day-old Long-Evans rats. Temporal parameters were provided by means of oxytetracycline and bromodeoxyuridine labeling techniques. Stereological parameters were measured with standard techniques. For all four growth plates, the calculated number of new chondrocytes produced per day approximated the number of chondrocytes lost per day at the chondro-osseous junction. This suggests that the proposed equations and associated variables represent a comprehensive set of variables defining differential growth. In absolute numbers, the proximal tibial growth plate produced about four times as many chondrocytes per day as the proximal radial growth plate (16,400 compared with 3,700). In the proximal tibia, 9% of growth is contributed by cellular division; 32%, by matrix synthesis throughout the growth plate: and 59%, by chondrocytic enlargement during hypertrophy. In the more slowly elongating growth plates, the relative contribution to elongation from cellular enlargement decreases from 59 to 44%, with a relative increase in contribution from matrix synthesis ranging from 32% in the proximal tibia to 49% in the proximal radius. This study suggests that differential growth is best depicted as a complex interplay among cellular division, matrix synthesis, and cellular enlargement during hypertrophy. Differential growth is best explained by considering a set of eight independent variables, seven of which vary from growth plate to growth plate. Thus, this study confirms the importance of cellular hypertrophy during elongation and adds to our understanding of the importance of locally mediated regulatory systems controlling growth-plate activity.