The growth plates of the femoral head of Japanese white rabbits aged 5, 10, 15 and 20 weeks were stained for apoptotic and proliferating chondrocytes using the TUNEL and PCNA antibody staining techniques. Both TUNEL- and PCNA-positive chondrocytes were detected in all of the specimens. The positive ratios of both stainings were calculated for the whole plate and for the resting, proliferating and hypertrophic zones. The highest ratios in both stainings occurred in the hypertrophic zone in all age groups. With growth, the TUNEL-positive ratio increased whereas the proliferating ratio decreased. We suggest that the increase in chondrocytic death by apoptosis and the decrease in cell proliferation potential led to closure of the growth plate.