The development of the attachment zones of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is an important consideration when examining the structural properties. The aim of this study was to elucidate the morphological changes and the distribution of proliferating cells and collagen types I, II and III at the attachment zones of the rat ACL during postnatal growth.

The majority of proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) immunostained cells were noted near the ligament insertion, especially at the tibial site, and these cells gradually changed to fibrochondrocyte-like cells but still produced collagen types I and III at birth until one month old when rapid longitudinal growth of the ACL took place. After one month when the rate of the ligament growth decreased to one thirtieth of that during the first month and the epiphyseal cartilage at the attachment zone had been replaced by bone, these fibrochondrocyte-like cells began to produce collagen type II and reveal safranin O staining. The immunolabelling pattern to collagen type III was similar to that of PCNA immunostaining during the growth phase.

Our findings show that the fibrochondrocytes at the attachment zone may develop from the ligament cells and act as a growth zone for the ligament during the period of ligament growth, and that subsequently, these cells begin to synthesis collagen type II and proteoglycans after epiphyseal ossification. These observations mainly occurred at the tibial attachment zone.

© 2002 Orthopaedic Research Society. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.