This article presents a morphologic assessment of the effect of silicon nitride ceramic (Si3N4) on rabbit marrow stromal cells and their differentiation when grown in vitro and in vivo. In vitro marrow stromal cells (MSC) attached initially to upper portions of ceramic discs. However, at four weeks, cells only attached to disc edges. Fresh marrow or first passage MSC, inoculated into diffusion chambers with and without Si3N4, formed cartilage, bone, and fibrous tissue after being implanted intraperitoneally for five weeks. Tissue differentiated adjacent to Si3N4 but not within the pores. In contrast, Si3N4 implants inserted into femoral marrow cavities were surrounded initially by woven bone and within three months by mature bone that had permeated implants with a pore size of 255 +/- 64 microns. Plugs having a pore diameter of 170 +/- 45 microns mainly contained vascularized fibrous tissue with occasional foci of osteoid or bone in the peripheral pores. In a pilot experiment, three femoral segmental Si3N4 endoprostheses were implanted in three adult rabbits, and the osseous reactions were monitored during their natural life. Each implant was enclosed by a stable cuff of bone within four months of implantation and remained unchanged during the rest of the animal's life. Autopsies confirmed these roentgenographic observations, and tissue appositional to each prosthesis was morphologically normal. Si3N4 has the potential of an important ceramic for use in osseous reconstruction.