We examined bovine fetal epiphyseal and growth plate cartilages by immunofluorescence microscopy and immunoelectron microscopy using monospecific antibodies to a newly discovered cartilage-matrix calcium-binding protein that we now call chondrocalcin. Chondrocalcin was evenly distributed at relatively low concentration in resting fetal epiphyseal cartilage. In growth plate cartilage, it was absent from the extracellular matrix in the zone of proliferating chondrocytes but was present in intracellular vacuoles in proliferating, maturing and upper hypertrophic chondrocytes. The protein then disappeared from the lower hypertrophic chondrocytes and appeared in the adjoining extracellular matrix, where it was selectively concentrated in the longitudinal septa in precisely the same location where amorphous mineral was deposited in large amounts as demonstrated by von Kossa staining and electron microscopy. Mineral then spread out from these "nucleation sites" to occupy much of the surrounding matrix. Matrix vesicles were identified in this calcifying matrix but they bore no observable morphological relationship to these major sites of calcification where chondrocalcin was concentrated. Since chondrocalcin is a calcium-binding protein and has a strong affinity for hydroxyapatite, these observations suggest that chondrocalcin may play a fundamental role in the creation of nucleation sites for the calcification of cartilage matrix in endochondral bone formation.

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