Skeletal growth depends upon enchondral ossification in growth plate cartilage, within which chondrocytes undergo well defined stages of maturation. We infused IGF-I or growth hormone (GH), two key regulators of skeletal growth, into hypophysectomized rats and compared their effects on growth plate chondrocyte differentiation using qualitative and quantitative autoradiography, stereology, and incident light fluorescence microscopy. Stem cell cycle time was shortened from 50 to 15 and 8 d after treatment with IGF-I and GH, respectively. Proliferating cell cycle time decreased from 11 to 4.5 and 3 d, and duration of the hypertrophic phase decreased from 6 to 4 and 2.8 d. Average matrix volume per cell at each differentiation stage was similar for normal, hormone-treated, and untreated hypophysectomized groups. Mean cell volume and cell height were significantly reduced by hypophysectomy at the proliferative and hypertrophic stages, but were restored to physiological values by IGF-I and GH. In contrast, cell productivity, i.e., increases in cell volume, height, and matrix production per unit of time, did not reach normal values with either IGF-I or GH, and this parameter was inversely proportional to cell cycle time or phase duration. IGF-I and GH are thus capable of stimulating growth plate chondrocytes at all stages of differentiation, albeit to variable degrees with respect to individual cell activities. Although it is generally accepted that GH acts at both the stem and proliferating phases of chondrocyte differentiation, our data represent the first evidence in vivo that IGF-I is also capable of stimulating stem cells.


E B Hunziker, J Wagner, J Zapf


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