We studied the effect of triiodothyronine (T3) on mammalian growth-plate cartilage in vitro. Growth-plate cartilages from fetal pigs scapulae were incubated for 3 to 7 d in serum-free medium alone or medium containing T3. Alkaline phosphatase activity, a marker of hypertrophied chondrocytes, was increased in T3 (10 nM)-treated growth-plate cartilage 152 +/- 36% above that of cartilage incubated in medium alone after 3 d of incubation, and 324 +/- 47% after 7 d of incubation. There was a dose-response increase in alkaline phosphatase activity to T3 over the range of 0.01-10 nM. The rise in alkaline phosphatase activity was specific for T3 since growth-plate cartilage alkaline phosphatase activity was not increased by cortisol, insulin, parathyroid hormone, or 5% fetal calf serum. Histological studies of growth-plate cartilage showed that T3 in a concentration-dependent manner increased the width of the zone of maturation (hypertrophied chondrocytes). Histochemical staining for alkaline phosphatase activity demonstrated that T3 caused the recruitment of new cells into the zone of maturation. T3 also stimulated incorporation of L-[3H]leucine into protein and 35SO4 into proteoglycan in growth-plate cartilage. In contrast, T3 did not increase alkaline phosphatase activity or radiolabeled precursor incorporation into nongrowth-plate scapular cartilage. These studies demonstrate that T3 directly stimulates maturation and, to a lesser degree, growth-related processes in fetal mammalian growth-plate cartilage.
W M Burch, H E Lebovitz