The pacemaker of endochondral bone growth is cell division and hypertrophy of chondrocytes. The developmental stages of chondrocytes, characterized by the expression of collagen types II and X, are arranged in arrays across the growth zone. Mutations in collagen II and X genes as well as the absence of their gene products lead to different, altered patterns of chondrocyte stages which remain aligned across the growth plate (GP). Here we analyze GP of rats bearing the mutation toothless (tl) which, apart from bone defects, develop a progressive, severe chondrodystrophy during postnatal weeks 3 to 6. Mutant GP exhibited disorganized, non-aligned chondrocytes and mineralized metaphyseal bone but without cartilage mineralization or cartilaginous extensions into the metaphysis. Expression of mRNA coding for collagen types II (Col II) and X (Col X) was examined in the tibial GP by in situ hybridization. Mutant rats at 2 weeks exhibited Col II RNA expression and some hypertrophied chondrocytes (HC) but no Col X RNA was detected. By 3rd week, HC had largely disappeared from the central part of the mutant GP and Col II RNA expression was present but weak and in 2 separate bands. Peripherally the GP contained HC but without Col X RNA expression. This abnormal pattern was exacerbated by the fourth week. Bone mineralized but cartilage in the GP did not. These data suggest that the tl mutation involves a regulatory function for chondrocyte maturation, including Col X RNA synthesis and mineralization, and that the GP abnormalities are related to the Col X deficiency. The differences in patterning in the tl rat GP compared to direct Col X mutations may be explained by compensatory effects.
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