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J Cell Biochem. 2009 Oct 15;108(3):668-74. doi: 10.1002/jcb.22302.

Phosphate regulates embryonic endochondral bone development.

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Endocrine Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA.


Phosphate is required for terminal differentiation of hypertrophic chondrocytes during postnatal growth plate maturation. In vitro models of chondrocyte differentiation demonstrate that 7 mM phosphate, a concentration analogous to that of the late gestational fetus, activates the mitochondrial apoptotic pathway in hypertrophic chondrocytes. This raises the question as to whether extracellular phosphate modulates chondrocyte differentiation and apoptosis during embryonic endochondral bone formation. To address this question, we performed investigations in the mouse metatarsal culture model that recapitulates in vivo bone development. Metatarsals were cultured for 4, 8, and 12 days with 1.25 and 7 mM phosphate. Metatarsals cultured with 7 mM phosphate showed a decrease in proliferation compared to those cultured in 1.25 mM phosphate. This decrease in proliferation was accompanied by an early enhancement in hypertrophic chondrocyte differentiation, associated with an increase in FGF18 expression. By 8 days in culture, an increase caspase-9 activation and apoptosis of hypertrophic chondrocytes was observed in the metatarsals cultured in 7 mM phosphate. Immunohistochemical analyses of embryonic bones demonstrated activation of caspase-9 in hypertrophic chondrocytes, associated with vascular invasion. Thus, these investigations demonstrate that phosphate promotes chondrocyte differentiation during embryonic development and implicate a physiological role for phosphate activation of the mitochondrial apoptotic pathway during embryonic endochondral bone formation.

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