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Cells Tissues Organs. 2008;187(1):35-47. Epub 2007 Dec 11.

Forelimb versus hindlimb skeletal development in the big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus: functional divergence is reflected in chondrocytic performance in Autopodial growth plates.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


The morphology of the chiropteran forelimb demonstrates musculoskeletal specializations for powered flight essentially unique among mammals, including extreme elongation of the distal skeletal elements. Recent studies have focused primarily on the relative timing and levels of gene expression during early stages of endochondral ossification in the chiropteran embryo for clues to the molecular basis of the evolutionary origins of flight in these species. The goal of the current study was to examine how elongation of skeletal elements of the forelimb autopod is achieved through a combination of cellular proliferation, cellular enlargement and matrix synthesis during a period of rapid postnatal growth in Eptesicus fuscus. Quantitative analyses were done of multiple performance parameters of growth plate chondrocytes during all phases of the differentiation cascade. Fourteen autopodial growth plates from the forelimb and hindlimb of one individual, as well as the proximal tibial growth plate, were collected and analyzed. Significant differences were seen in all performance parameters examined. Particularly striking were the differences between growth plates of the manus and pes in the size of the pool of chondrocytes in all cellular zones and rates of turnover of terminal cells. The magnitude of hypertrophy of chondrocytes in growth plates of the manus in E. fuscus far exceeded what has been reported previously in any species, even in rapidly elongating rodent long bones. Volume changes approaching x70 and height changes of 50-60 mum/cell (paralleling the direction of growth) occurred after proliferation in the most rapidly growing growth plates. The data demonstrate that final differences in lengths of homologous skeletal elements in the autopod of the forelimb and hindlimb of this species result not just from an initiating factor early in development, but from continued quantitative differences in chondrocytic performance during postnatal bone elongation as measured by multiple kinetic-based parameters.

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