Evidence for transformation of chondrocytes and site-specific resorption during the degradation of Meckel’s cartilage
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It is unknown whether cells in the midportion of Meckel’s cartilage undergo transformation into other kinds of cell or whether resorption of cells occurs during development. Therefore, the midportion of Meckel’s cartilage from the mouse and the rat was subdivided into anterior and posterior portions. The ultimate fates of these tissues were analyzed with a focus on resorption-related cells, death of chondrocytes by apoptosis, and transformation of the chondrocytes themselves. Cellular and extracellular features of mouse Meckel’s cartilage were observed after von Kossa’s staining and staining for acid phosphatase (APase) activity, as well as by light and electron microscopy. To identify resorbing cells, immunostaining specific for macrophages and staining for tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase (TRAP) were performed. The DNA nick end-labeling (TUNEL) method was used for the detection of death of chondrocytes by apoptosis. The replacement of the extracellular matrix of rat Meckel’s cartilage was examined with double immunofluorescence staining for type I and type II collagens. When the anterior midportion from embryonic mice on day 18 was examined after von Kossa’s staining, it was clear that the extracellular matrix had already calcified and vascularization had been initiated that reflected the calcified matrix. TRAP staining and immunostaining for macrophages revealed two types of osteoclast and macrophages that were involved in resorption of the matrix. In the posterior midportion, no vascular invasion was evident, and chondrocytes were transformed directly into fibroblastic cells by phenotypic conversion. In such cells we found reaction products specific for APase activity, suggestive of the intracellular degradation of fine collagenous fibrils. Double immunofluorescence staining showed that cartilage-specific type II collagen was replaced by type I collagen with the phenotypic transformation to fibroblastic cells. There were no significant changes in the number of TUNEL-positive apoptotic cells from day 17 of gestation to day 6 after parturition. Death of chondrocytes by apoptosis was not, therefore, involved directly in the disappearance of Meckel’s cartilage. These results in the posterior midportion served as an instance of phenotypic switches in differentiated cells from chondrocytes to fibroblast-like cells. The present study indicates that there is a difference between the ultimate fate of cells in the posterior part and that of cells in the anterior part in the midportion of Meckel’s cartilage in the mouse and rat.
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