Our morphological studies have demonstrated that the appearance of localized, paired zones of primary calcification on either side of the midline of the 19-d embryonic chick sternum is heralded by the development of paired, translucent zones 2 d previously. Histological studies demonstrated that the majority of chondrocytes within these translucent zones are hypertrophic, and that the zones are surrounded by a margin of flattened nonhypertrophic cells. The discrete localization of these paired areas of hypertrophic chondrocytes and subsequent endochondral bone development allows for the direct correlation of the histological and biochemical characteristics of the zones sequentially during development and makes it possible to precisely match the synthetic activity to the cellular morphology, thereby eliminating possible minor but critical variations in developmental staging that could otherwise arise. Our studies have demonstrated that there is a direct spatial and temporal correlation between the degree of cellular maturation and the synthesis of type X collagen, and that the sudden and profound initiation of type X collagen synthesis on days 16-17 of development occurs concurrently with the attainment of hypertrophic characteristics by the majority of cells within the translucent zone. Before acquisition of these hypertrophic characteristics, the cells of this precalcification zone synthesize only type II and the minor cartilage collagens. Chondrocytes isolated from these regions in more immature sternae (i.e., 11+ d embryos) were found to synthesize high levels of type X collagen within 4 d of culture within collagen gels even though hypertrophic development and type X collagen synthesis by cells within this region would not normally have been apparent in ovo for several more days. These data indicate that there is a direct correlation between the development of hypertrophic characteristics and the synthesis of type X collagen, and that the maturation of chondrocytes in precalcification zones may be regulated by matrix components and/or stimulated by culture within collagen gels.

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