An examination of the fine structure of cartilage and bone matrix at the distal epiphyseal line of the femur of a newborn infant has revealed the following information.
Cartilage matrix is composed of a network of widely spaced fibers without obvious periodic banding. Calcification is first seen about the level of the third chondrocyte capsule distal to the furthest penetration of the capillaries. It starts as a haphazard deposition of crystals which have no obvious relationship to the location of the fibers. The process of calcification is completed before ossification commences but the central zone of matrix remains only partly mineralized.
Bone matrix is formed over a bar of calcified cartilage. Fibers, recognizable as collagen, are deposited in a loose network in a narrow zone between the osteoblasts and cartilage. These fibers are 2 to 5 times as wide as the fibers in epiphyseal cartilage. Calcification then begins in the osteoid, crystals being first laid down irregularly on or close to the fibers. As they increase in number, the crystals tend to line up along the fibers and eventually are arranged so that the periodicity of the underlying collagen is emphasized. In such an area the fibers are more tightly packed than when uncalcified.
There is no change observed in the calcified cartilage at this level.
The extracellular matrices of this epiphyseal cartilage and bone can be distinguished from one another in the electron microscope.