The medullary bone serves as a source of labile calcium mobilized during calcification of the egg shell in birds. Quantitative histological methods demonstrate that the numbers of medullary bone osteoclasts and nuclei per osteoclast remain unchanged during the egg cycle in the Japanese quail (Coturnix). Therefore, cyclic changes in bone resorption cannot be explained by modulations of osteoclasts from and into other bone cells, a mechanism previously suggested for certain species of birds. Rather, dramatic changes in osteoclast cell-surface features occur during the egg cycle, which might account for cyclic variations in resorptive activity. During egg shell calcification, osteoclasts with ruffled borders are closely apposed to bone surfaces; the cytoplasm is rich in vacuoles that contain mineral crystals and seem to derive from the ruffled border. At the completion of egg shell calcification, the ruffled borders and vacuoles move away from the bone surface, although the osteoclast remains attached to the bone along the filamentous or "clear" zone. Associated with the disappearance of the ruffled borders is the appearance of extensive interdigitated cell processes along the peripheral surface of the osteoclast away from the bone. These unusual structures, which may serve as a reservoir of membrane, largely disappear when ruffled borders and associated structures reappear. Therefore, in these hens, the osteoclasts modulate their cell surface rather than their population during the egg cycle.

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