Transient chondrogenic phase in the intramembranous pathway during normal skeletal development

Hyun Duck Nah, Maurizio Pacifici, Louis C. Gerstenfeld, Sherrill L. Adams, Thorsten Kirsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Calvarial and facial bones form by intramembranous ossification, in which bone cells arise directly from mesenchyme without an intermediate cartilage anlage. However, a number of studies have reported the emergence of chondrocytes from in vitro calvarial cell or organ cultures and the expression of type II collagen, a cartilage-characteristic marker, in developing calvarial bones. Based on these findings we hypothesized that a covert chondrogenic phase may be an integral part of the normal intramembranous pathway. To test this hypothesis, we analyzed the temporal and spatial expression patterns of cartilage characteristic genes in normal membranous bones from chick embryos at various developmental stages (days 12, 15 and 19). Northern and RNAse protection analyses revealed that embryonic frontal bones expressed not only the type I collagen gene but also a subset of cartilage characteristic genes, types IIA and XI collagen and aggrecan, thus resembling a phenotype of prechondrogenic-condensing mesenchyme. The expression of cartilage-characteristic genes decreased with the progression of bone maturation. Immunohistochemical analyses of developing embryonic chick heads indicated that type II collagen and aggrecan were produced by alkaline phosphatase activity positive cells engaged in early stages of osteogenic differentiation, such as cells in preosteogenic-condensing mesenchyme, the cambium layer of periosteum, the advancing osteogenic front, and osteoid bone. Type IIB and X collagen messenger RNAs (mRNA), markers for mature chondrocytes, were also detected at low levels in calvarial bone but not until late embryonic stages (day 19), indicating that some calvarial cells may undergo overt chondrogenesis. On the basis of our findings, we propose that the normal intramembranous pathway in chicks includes a previously unrecognized transient chondrogenic phase similar to prechondrogenic mesenchyme, and that the cells in this phase retain chondrogenic potential that can be expressed in specific in vitro and in vivo microenvironments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)522-533
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Bone and Mineral Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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