Regulation of Long Bone Growth in Vertebrates; It Is Time to Catch Up

Endocr Rev. 2015 Dec;36(6):646-80. doi: 10.1210/er.2015-1048. Epub 2015 Oct 20.


The regulation of organ size is essential to human health and has fascinated biologists for centuries. Key to the growth process is the ability of most organs to integrate organ-extrinsic cues (eg, nutritional status, inflammatory processes) with organ-intrinsic information (eg, genetic programs, local signals) into a growth response that adapts to changing environmental conditions and ensures that the size of an organ is coordinated with the rest of the body. Paired organs such as the vertebrate limbs and the long bones within them are excellent models for studying this type of regulation because it is possible to manipulate one member of the pair and leave the other as an internal control. During development, growth plates at the end of each long bone produce a transient cartilage model that is progressively replaced by bone. Here, we review how proliferation and differentiation of cells within each growth plate are tightly controlled mainly by growth plate-intrinsic mechanisms that are additionally modulated by extrinsic signals. We also discuss the involvement of several signaling hubs in the integration and modulation of growth-related signals and how they could confer remarkable plasticity to the growth plate. Indeed, long bones have a significant ability for "catch-up growth" to attain normal size after a transient growth delay. We propose that the characterization of catch-up growth, in light of recent advances in physiology and cell biology, will provide long sought clues into the molecular mechanisms that underlie organ growth regulation. Importantly, catch-up growth early in life is commonly associated with metabolic disorders in adulthood, and this association is not completely understood. Further elucidation of the molecules and cellular interactions that influence organ size coordination should allow development of novel therapies for human growth disorders that are noninvasive and have minimal side effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Bone Development / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Extremities / growth & development
  • Growth Disorders
  • Growth Plate / growth & development
  • Growth Plate / physiology
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Organ Size / physiology
  • Osteogenesis / physiology
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / physiology
  • Receptor Cross-Talk
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / physiology
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / physiology
  • Vertebrates / growth & development*


  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Hippo protein, human
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases