Further observations on programmed cell death in the epiphyseal growth plate: comparison of normal and dyschondroplastic epiphyses

K Ohyama, C Farquharson, C C Whitehead, I M Shapiro

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The objective of the investigation was to provide information on apoptosis in the normal epiphysis and to assess apoptosis in the plate of the dyschondroplastic chick. Apoptosis was evaluated using two terminal deoxynucleotide transferase end-labeling procedures, DNA fragmentation and nuclear morphology. We found that there was a minimal level of apoptosis in the dyschondroplastic cartilage. In the tibial dyschondroplastic (TD) lesion itself, only about 3% of cells are positive in the articular and proliferative regions; 11% of prehypertrophic chondrocytes are stained by the end-labeling procedure, and most of the cells are localized around vascular channels at the calcifying front. This finding suggests that dyschondroplasia is linked to impairment of apoptosis, and as a result the tissue contains immature cells that have outlived their normal life span. In contrast, in the normal plate, we noted that when the proliferative period was complete, the cells became terminal transferase positive; in addition, chondrocytes in the normal plate exhibited DNA fragmentation. Semiquantitative analysis of stained chondrocytes in the growth plate indicate that in the proliferative zone 15.5% of cells are terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase (TUNEL) positive; in contrast, 44% of postmitotic chondrocytes are stained by the TUNEL procedure. The presence of a sharp border between the pre- and postmitotic zones suggests that the stimulus for apoptosis is maturation dependent and reflects local metabolic control. We also examined apoptosis in metaphyseal osteoblasts. We found that adjacent to the epiphysis, many osteoblasts were undergoing apoptosis. In more mature sites in the metaphysis, there was less cell death, indicating that osteoblast apoptosis was delayed and cells were completing their normal life cycle. Although terminal transferase end-labeled cells were not seen in articular cartilage, we noted that fibroblasts, in the perichondrial ligament surrounding the articular as well as the epiphyseal regions of the plate, were undergoing apoptosis. Apoptosis at this site may be related to lateral expansion of the cartilages, reflect a high cell turnover rate at the junction between the tissues, and result from paracrine signals received from the underlying cartilage.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1647-56
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Bone and Mineral Research
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1997


  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Division
  • Chickens
  • DNA Fragmentation
  • DNA Nucleotidylexotransferase
  • DNA Polymerase I
  • Genetic Techniques
  • Growth Plate
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Osteochondrodysplasias
  • Staining and Labeling
  • Tibia


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