, Volume 50, Issue 3, pp 283-289

The role of morphogens in endochondral ossification

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The formation of bone occurs normally by one of two developmental processes: intramembranous or endochondral ossification. Endochondral ossification occurs in the morphogenesis of the limb buds and growth plates, and in the regeneration of bone following injury (fracture callus). Two classes of diffusible morphogen-like molecules (MLMs) involved in limb development are the bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) and retinoic acid (RA). These MLMs are associated, respectively, with the apical ectodermal ridge (AER) and the zone of polarizing activity (ZPA) of the primitive limb bud. They function as potent regulators of pattern formation and are involved in tissue proliferation and differentiation. The presence of endochondral ossification in fracture callus suggests a role for MLMs in that process as well. To date, virtually nothing is known about the role of morphogens in the regeneration of bone (fracture healing). In this article, we review the current knowledge of MLMs in bone formation and propose a theory on their role in fracture healing. We hypothesize that MLMs involved in fracture healing may also express spatial and temporal information. A more complete understanding of the role of morphogens in both limb development and fracture healing is of major importance to practicing orthopedists and their patients.