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J Cell Physiol. 2007 Dec;213(3):635-41.

Integration of signaling pathways regulating chondrocyte differentiation during endochondral bone formation.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-6030, USA.


During endochondral bone formation, chondrocytes undergo a process of terminal differentiation or maturation, during which the rate of proliferation decreases, cells become hypertrophic, and the extracellular matrix is altered by production of a unique protein, collagen X, as well as proteins that promote mineralization. The matrix surrounding the hypertrophic chondrocytes eventually becomes mineralized, and the mineralized matrix serves as a template for bone deposition. This process is responsible for most longitudinal bone growth, both during embryonic development and in the postnatal long bone growth plates. Chondrocyte maturation must be precisely controlled, balancing proliferation with terminal differentiation; changes in the rate of either proliferation or differentiation result in shortened bones. Numerous signaling molecules have been implicated in regulation of this process. These include the negative regulators Indian hedgehog (Ihh) and parathyroid hormone-related protein (PTHrP; Pthlh, PTH-like hormone), as well as a number of positive regulators. This review will focus on several positive regulators which exert profound effects on chondrocyte maturation: the thyroid hormones T3 and T4, retinoic acid (the major active metabolite of vitamin A) and bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs), as well as the transcription factor Runx2. Each of these molecules is essential for endochondral bone formation and cannot compensate for the others; abrogation of any one of them prevents differentiation. The important features of each of these signaling pathways will be discussed as they relate to chondrocyte maturation, and a model will be proposed suggesting how these pathways may converge to regulate this process.

2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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