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Abstract

A detailed histological study of the growth plates from 9− to 20-day-old embryonic chick long bones was carried out with the aim of clarifying the long-debated question of the fate of the hypertrophic chondrocytes. Since resorption in chick bones does not occur synchronously across the plate as it does in mammals, specialized regions develop and the fate of the chondrocyte depends on its location within the growth plate. Where resorption took place, as at the sites of primary vascular invasion or at the main cartilage/marrow interface, chondrocytes underwent apoptosis before the lacunae were opened. In addition, spontaneous apoptosis of chondrocytes occurred at apparently random sites throughout all stages of chondrocyte differentiation. In older chick bones, a thick layer of endochondral bone matrix covered the cartilage edge. This consisted of type I collagen and the typical noncollagenous bone proteins but, in addition, contained tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase in the mineralized matrix. Where such matrix temporarily protected the subjacent cartilage from resorption, chondrocytes differentiated to bone-forming cells and deposited bone matrix inside their lacunae. At sites of first endochondral bone formation, some chondrocytes underwent an asymmetric cell division resulting in one daughter cell which underwent apoptosis, while the other cell remained viable and re-entered the cell cycle. This provided further support for the notion that chondrocytes as well as marrow stromal cells give rise to endochondral osteoblasts.