Endochondral ossification: Wikis


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Section of fetal bone of cat. ir. Irruption of the subperiosteal tissue. p. Fibrous layer of the periosteum. o. Layer of osteoblasts. im. Subperiosteal bony deposit. (From Quain’s “Anatomy,” E. A. Schäfer.)

Endochondral ossification (from Greek: ἔνδον/endon, "within", and χόνδρος/chondros, "cartilage")[1] is one of the two essential processes during fetal development of the mammalian skeletal system resulting in the creation of bone tissue. Unlike intramembranous ossification, which is the other process, cartilage is present during endochondral ossification. It is also an essential process during the rudimentary formation of long bones,[2] the growth of the length of long bones,[3] and the natural healing of bone fractures.[4]


Growth of the cartilage model

The cartilage model will grow in length by continuous cell division of chondrocytes, which is accompanied by further secretion of extracellular matrix. This is called interstitial growth. The process of appositional growth occurs when the cartilage model would also grow in thickness which is due to the addition of more extracellular matrix on the periphery cartilage surface, which is accompanied by new chondroblasts that develop from the perichondrium.

Primary center of ossification

Bone growth.png

The first site of ossification occurs in the primary center of ossification, which is in the middle of diaphysis (shaft). Then:

  • Formation of periosteum: Once vascularized, the perichondrium becomes the periosteum. The periosteum contains a layer of undifferentiated cells (osteoprogenitor cells) which later become osteoblasts.
  • Formation of bone collar: The osteoblasts secrete osteoid against the shaft of the cartilage model (Appositional Growth). This serves as support for the new bone.
  • Calcification of matrix: Chondrocytes in the primary center of ossification begin to grow (hypertrophy). They stop secreting collagen and other proteoglycans and begin secreting alkaline phosphatase, an enzyme essential for mineral deposition. Then calcification of the matrix occurs and apoptosis of the hypertrophic chondrocytes occurs. This creates cavities within the bone. The exact mechanism of chondrocyte hypertrophy and apoptosis is currently unknown.
  • Invasion of periosteal bud: The hypertrophic chondrocytes (before apoptosis) secrete Vascular Endothelial Cell Growth Factor that induces the sprouting of blood vessels from the perichondrium. Blood vessels forming the periosteal bud invade the cavity left by the chondrocytes and branch in opposite directions along the length of the shaft. The blood vessels carry hemopoietic cells, osteoprogenitor cells and other cells inside the cavity. The hemopoietic cells will later form the bone marrow.
  • Formation of trabeculae: Osteoblasts, differentiated from the osteoprogenitor cells that entered the cavity via the periosteal bud, use the calcified matrix as a scaffold and begin to secrete osteoid, which forms the bone trabecula. Osteoclasts, formed from macrophages, break down spongy bone to form the medullary (bone marrow) cavity.

Secondary center of ossification

About the time of birth, a secondary ossification center appears in each end (epiphysis) of long bones. Periosteal buds carry mesenchyme and blood vessels in and the process is similar to that occurring in a primary ossification center. The cartilage between the primary and secondary ossification centers is called the epiphyseal plate, and it continues to form new cartilage, which is replaced by bone, a process that results in an increase in length of the bone. Growth continues until the individual is about 21 years old or until the cartilage in the plate is replaced by bone. The point of union of the primary and secondary ossification centers is called the epiphyseal line.

Appositional bone growth

The growth in diameter of bones around the diaphysis occurs by deposition of bone beneath the periosteum. Osteoclasts in the interior cavity continue to degrade bone until its ultimate thickness is achieved, at which point the rate of formation on the outside and degradation from the inside is constant.


Drawing of part of a longitudinal section of the developing femur of a rabbit. a. Flattened cartilage cells. b. Enlarged cartilage cells. c, d. Newly formed bone. e. Osteoblasts. f. Giant cells or osteoclasts. g, h. Shrunken cartilage cells. (From “Atlas of Histology,” Klein and Noble Smith.)

During endochondral ossification, four distinct zones can be seen at the light-microscope level.

  1. Zone of resting cartilage. This zone contains normal, resting hyaline cartilage.
  2. Zone of proliferation. In this zone, chondrocytes undergo rapid mitosis, forming distinctive looking stacks.
  3. Zone of maturation / hypertrophy. It is during this zone that the chondrocytes undergo hypertrophy (become enlarged). Chondrocytes contain large amounts of glycogen and begin to secrete alkaline phosphatase.
  4. Zone of calcification. In this zone, chondrocytes are either dying or dead, leaving cavities that will later become invaded by bone-forming cells. Chondrocytes here die when they can no longer receive nutrients or eliminate wastes via diffusion. This is because the calcified matrix is much less hydrated than hyaline cartilage.
Hypertrophic Zone and Calcification Zone of Epiphyseal Plate as shown by phase-contrast light microscopy.

Fracture healing

In fracture healing, cartilage is formed by endochondral ossification and is called callus.


  1. ^ "Etymology of the English word endochondral". myEtymolgy. http://www.myetymology.com/english/endochondral.html. Retrieved December 2009. 
  2. ^ Netter, Frank H. (1987), Musculoskeletal system: anatomy, physiology, and metabolic disorders. Summit, New Jersey: Ciba-Geigy Corporation ISBN 0914168886, p. 130: One exception is the clavicle.
  3. ^ Brighton, Carl T., Yoichi Sugioka, and Robert M. Hunt (1973), "Cytoplasmic structures of epiphyseal plate chondrocytes; quantitative evaluation using electron micrographs of rat costochondral junctions with specific reference to the fate of hypertrophic cells", Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 55-A: 771-784
  4. ^ Brighton, Carl T. and Robert M. Hunt (1986): "Histochemical localization of calcium in the fracture callus with potassium pyroantimonate: possible role of chondrocyte mitochondrial calcium in callus calcification", Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 68-A (5): 703-715

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