We studied 27 embryos of 5-12 weeks gestational age where pregnancy was interrupted due to paramedical reasons, in order to find the developmental stages at which matrix vesicles appear in cartilage, and whether they are involved in the mineralization process. Specimens of long bones, lumbar and thoracic vertebral column were prepared for light, transmission and scanning electron microscopic studies. In the cartilaginous models of long bones, matrix vesicles were found amongst maturing and hypertrophic chondrocytes already by the 6th week after fertilization. By that stage, bone rudiments consisted of only cartilage that was not yet mineralized. In the vertebral column matrix, vesicles were found in the vertebral bodies amongst maturing and hypertrophic chondrocytes at the beginning of the 8th week. At that stage, although hypertrophy of chondrocytes was observed, mineralization was still absent. No matrix vesicles were found in the perichondrium, investing mesenchyme and intervertebral discs. Mineralization of cartilage in long bone rudiments started in the form of hydroxyapatite crystals within or around the matrix vesicles at 7 weeks of age and in the vertebral column at 11 weeks. As mineralization progressed, more hydroxyapatite crystals were observed around the matrix vesicles, forming typical calcospherites. Mineralization then progressed in the form described in other animals.
- Matrix vesicles