Paralysis and growth of the musculoskeletal system in the embryonic chick

J Morphol. 1990 Oct;206(1):45-56. doi: 10.1002/jmor.1052060105.


Avian embryos can be completely paralyzed by injection of neuromuscular-blocking agents. We used a single injection of decamethonium iodide to paralyze embryos at 7, 8, or 10 days of incubation and analyzed the growth of individual bones (clavicle, mandible, ulna, femur, tibia, humerus) and of individual muscles that act upon some of those bones (clavicular and sternal heads of m. pectoralis, and mm. biceps brachii, depressor mandibulae, pseudotemporalis, and adductor externus). Growth of the bones is not equally affected by paralysis. Only 27% of clavicular growth (by mass) but 77% of mandibular growth occurred in paralyzed embryos, whereas the four long bones exhibited 52-63% of their normal growth. Analysis of muscle weight, fiber length and physiological cross-sectional area (weight/fiber length) indicate that there was greater reduction of the muscles acting on the limbs than of those acting on the mandible, i.e., diminished growth of the skeleton is correlated with reduced muscular activity. Specific retardation of clavicular growth is due to fusion of sternal rudiments and collapse of the thorax, as well as virtual absence of the musculature that normally attaches to the clavicle. We discuss these results in the light of intrinsic and extrinsic factors governing growth of the embryonic skeleton. Paralysis reduces skeletal growth by reducing both the movements taking place in ovo, and the loads imposed on the bones by muscle contraction, changes that represent alterations in the mechanical environment of the skeleton.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Development*
  • Bone and Bones / embryology
  • Cartilage / embryology
  • Chick Embryo / drug effects
  • Chick Embryo / physiology*
  • Decamethonium Compounds / pharmacology
  • Muscle Development*
  • Muscles / embryology
  • Neuromuscular Blocking Agents / pharmacology*
  • Time Factors


  • Decamethonium Compounds
  • Neuromuscular Blocking Agents
  • decamethonium