Visualization of living terminal hypertrophic chondrocytes of growth plate cartilage in situ by differential interference contrast microscopy and time-lapse cinematography

J Orthop Res. 1990 Sep;8(5):750-63. doi: 10.1002/jor.1100080517.


The functional unit within the growth plate consists of a column of chondrocytes that passes through a sequence of phases including proliferation, hypertrophy, and death. It is important to our understanding of the biology of the growth plate to determine if distal hypertrophic cells are viable, highly differentiated cells with the potential of actively controlling terminal events of endochondral ossification prior to their death at the chondro-osseous junction. This study for the first time reports on the visualization of living hypertrophic chondrocytes in situ, including the terminal hypertrophic chondrocyte. Chondrocytes in growth plate explants are visualized using rectified differential interference contrast microscopy. We record and measure, using time-lapse cinematography, the rate of movement of subcellular organelles at the limit of resolution of this light microscopy system. Control experiments to assess viability of hypertrophic chondrocytes include coincubating organ cultures with the intravital dye fluorescein diacetate to assess the integrity of the plasma membrane and cytoplasmic esterases. In this system, all hypertrophic chondrocytes, including the very terminal chondrocyte, exist as rounded, fully hydrated cells. By the criteria of intravital dye staining and organelle movement, distal hypertrophic chondrocytes are identical to chondrocytes in the proliferative and early hypertrophic cell zones.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cartilage / pathology*
  • Cartilage / ultrastructure
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Survival
  • Growth Plate / pathology*
  • Growth Plate / ultrastructure
  • Hypertrophy
  • Microscopy, Interference
  • Motion Pictures
  • Organelles / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Swine