An electron microscopic study of the tibial epiphyseal plates of growing rats reveals that the resorption of unmineralized and mineralized cartilage occurs by two different mechanisms. During resorption the unmineralized transverse cartilaginous walls between chondrocytes are invaded by capillary sprouts. At the resorption zone, numerous cytoplasmic processes derived primarily from the perivascular cells and, to a lesser extent, from the endothelial cells of the sprouts penetrate and appear to lyse the unmineralized transverse cartilaginous walls. Hydrolases released from the degenerating chondrocytes and/or capillary sprouts may also participate in this process. The second resorption mechanism involves the mineralized longitudinal cartilaginous septa. Resorption of these septa is mediated by chondroclasts whose fine structure is identical with that of osteoclasts. The active surface of the chondroclasts has a ruffled border. The surface membrane of the chondroclasts is relatively smooth on either side of the ruffled border and lies in direct apposition with the underlying mineralized cartilage. This observation suggests that the microenvironment in the zone of resorption may be maintained by the neighboring unruffled surfaces of the chondroclasts, which thus seal off and segregate the active portions of these cells.

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