Although there are many studies in the equine literature focused on articular diseases and the aetiology of osteoarthritis, few have concentrated on normal articular structures and how they change with age.
The objective of this investigation was to study the thickness and morphology of the calcified cartilage layerof the distal metacarpus over a range of ages. A parasagittal slab of bone was sectioned from the region of sesamoid contact on the medial condyle of the metacarpi from 34 horses. The slab of bone was preserved, dehydrated and embedded, undecalcified, in methylmethacrylate and then stained with toluidine blue. Six repeatable fields of interest from the distal aspect of each metacarpus were digitised and examined to determine the morphology of the calcified cartilage layer. The thickness of the calcified cartilage, range 88–426 μm, was estimated using a method of integration.
The results indicate an age-related influence on the thickness of the calcified cartilage layer, generally increased in older horses. While this finding is significant, perhaps more importantly a positional relationship was also identified, indicating that pressures endured by different regions within a joint may dictate morphological development of the tissues. This study has begun to lay the groundwork to determine whether the calcified layer of the hyaline cartilage could be involved in the development of osteoarthritis.