, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 43-50

A scanning electron microscopic investigation of in vitro osteogenesis

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Chick limb mesenchymal cells differentiate into muscle, cartilage, fibrous, and bone tissue. Previous reports show that when stage 24 limb mesenchymal cells are cultured in vitro, chondrocytes, myocytes, fibrocytes, and osteoblasts can be identified on the basis of morphological and biochemical parameters. The study reported here demonstrates that phenotypic expression in culture seems to be dependent on the initial plating density, Scanning electron microscopic observations indicate that when stage 24 limb mesenchymal cells are initially seeded at high densities (5 × 106 cells per 35 mm culture dish), mounds of cells appear in culture. These mounds represent cartilage nodules composed of a fine fibrous matrix and chondrocytes, surrounded by a loose fibrous connective tissue matrix. Cultures initially plated at intermediate densities (2.0–2.5 × 106 cells/35 mm culture dish) produce a flattened layer of fibrocytes overlying a matrix of collagen fibers and calcium phosphate deposits as determined by electron-microprobe analysis; these observations are indicative of osteoblast expression. Cells seeded at this intermediate density appear larger and possess greater surface area than cells seeded at high density. It is suggested that conditions that permit such increased cell surface area coupled with a relative compaction due to cell crowding may provide conditions permissive for osteogenesis. Based on morphological criteria, it appears that chick limb mesenchymal cell osteogenesis in vitro is not associated with chondrogenesis but represents a separate route of phenotypic expression.