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Endocrinology. 2014 Aug;155(8):2892-9. doi: 10.1210/en.2013-2175. Epub 2014 Apr 7.

Evidence that estrogen hastens epiphyseal fusion and cessation of longitudinal bone growth by irreversibly depleting the number of resting zone progenitor cells in female rabbits.

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Program in Developmental Endocrinology and Genetics (O.N., M.W., E.B.M.L., J.L.M., K.M.B., J.B.), Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892; and Center for Molecular Medicine and Pediatric Endocrinology Unit (O.N., E.B.M.L.), Department of Women's and Children's Health, Karolinska Institutet and Karolinska University Hospital, SE-171 76 Stockholm, Sweden.


With age, growth plate cartilage undergoes programmed senescence, eventually causing cessation of bone elongation and epiphyseal fusion. Estrogen accelerates this developmental process. We hypothesized that senescence occurs because progenitor cells in the resting zone are depleted in number and that estrogen acts by accelerating this depletion. To test this hypothesis, juvenile ovariectomized rabbits received injections of estradiol cypionate or vehicle for 5 weeks, and then were left untreated for an additional 5 weeks. Exposure to estrogen accelerated the normal decline in growth plate height and in the number of proliferative and hypertrophic chondrocytes. Five weeks after discontinuation of estrogen treatment, these structural parameters remained advanced, indicating an irreversible advancement in structural senescence. Similarly, transient estrogen exposure hastened epiphyseal fusion. Estrogen also caused a more rapid decline in functional parameters of growth plate senescence, including growth rate, proliferation rate, and hypertrophic cell size. However, in contrast to the structural parameters, once the estrogen treatment was discontinued, the growth rate, chondrocyte proliferation rate, and hypertrophic cell size all normalized, suggesting that estrogen has a reversible, suppressive effect on growth plate function. In addition, estrogen accelerated the normal loss of resting zone chondrocytes with age. This decrease in resting zone cell number did not appear to be due to apoptosis. However, it was maintained after the estrogen treatment stopped, suggesting that it represents irreversible depletion. The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that estrogen causes irreversible depletion of progenitor cells in the resting zone, thus irreversibly accelerating structural senescence and hastening epiphyseal fusion. In addition, estrogen reversibly suppresses growth plate function.

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