J Anat 2010 May;216(5):611-24
Department of Anatomy, Histology and Embryology, Division of Clinical and Functional Anatomy, Innsbruck Medical University, Innsbruck, Austria.
In long bones of murine species, undisturbed development of the epiphysis depends on the generation of vascularized cartilage canals shortly after birth. Despite its importance, it is still under discussion how this event is exactly regulated. It was suggested previously that, following increased hypoxia in the epiphyseal core, angiogenic factors are expressed and hence stimulate the ingrowth of the vascularized canals. In the present study, we tested this model and examined the spatio-temporal distribution of two angiogenic molecules during early development in mice. In addition, we investigated the onset of cartilage hypertrophy and mineralization. Our results provide evidence that the vascular endothelial growth factor is expressed in the epiphyseal resting cartilage prior to the moment of canal formation and is continuously expressed until the establishment of a large secondary ossification centre. Interestingly, we found no expression of secretoneurin before the establishment of the canals although this factor attracts blood vessels under hypoxic conditions. Epiphyseal development further involves maturation of the resting chondrocytes into hypertrophic ones, associated with the mineralization of the cartilage matrix and eventual death of the latter cells. Our results suggest that vascular endothelial growth factor is the critical molecule for the generation of the epiphyseal vascular network in mice long bones. Secretoneurin, however, does not appear to be a player in this event. Hypertrophic chondrocytes undergo cell death by a mechanism interpreted as chondroptosis.