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J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2003 Sep;85-A(9):1739-48.

Mechanisms responsible for longitudinal growth of the cortex: coalescence of trabecular bone into cortical bone.

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  • 1Unit of Growth and Development, Developmental Endocrinology Branch, National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.



The purpose of the present study was to determine whether longitudinal growth of the cortex occurs through intramembranous bone formation involving the periosteum or through endochondral bone formation involving the growth plate and to explore the cellular and biochemical mechanisms responsible for this process.


Cortical bone formation was studied in the metaphyses of growing New Zealand White rabbits by means of (1) oxytetracycline labeling and fluorescence microscopy, (2) computer-assisted histomorphometry, (3) osteoblast culture and [(3) H]-thymidine incorporation in the presence of periosteum or periosteum-conditioned medium, and (4) surgical insertion of membranes between the periosteum and the underlying spongiosa.


Within the metaphyseal cortex, oxytetracycline labeling produced fluorescent closed curves outlining enlarging trabeculae derived from coalescing endochondral trabecular bone. In this region of coalescing trabeculae close to the periosteum, osteoblast surface was increased compared with trabeculae farther from the periosteum (p < 0.001). The osteoclast surface did not differ. In vitro, osteoblast proliferation was increased in the presence of periosteum (p < 0.001) or periosteum-conditioned medium (p < 0.001). Surgical insertion of permeable or impermeable membranes between the periosteum and the spongiosa did not prevent cortex formation.


These observations demonstrate that metaphyseal cortical bone is formed by coalescence of endochondral trabecular bone. This coalescence is associated with increased osteoblast surface in the peripheral spongiosa. The increased osteoblast surface could be due to inductive effects of periosteum; in the present study, periosteum stimulated osteoblast proliferation in vitro but was not required for metaphyseal cortical bone formation in vivo.


Understanding metaphyseal cortical growth may help to elucidate the pathophysiology of osseous growth disorders in children.

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