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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2017

Cartilage canals in the distal intermediate ridge of the tibia of fetuses and foals are surrounded by different types of collagen

Hellings, Ingunn Risnes; Dolvik, Nils Ivar; Ekman, Stina; Olstad, Kristin


Some epiphyseal growth cartilage canals are surrounded by a ring of hypereosinophilic matrix consisting of collagen type I. Absence of the collagen type I ring may predispose canal vessels to failure and osteochondrosis, which can lead to fragments in joints (osteochondrosis dissecans). It is not known whether the ring develops in response to programming or biomechanical force. The distribution that may reveal the function of the ring has only been described in the distal femur of a limited number of foals. It is also not known which cells are responsible for producing the collagen ring. The aims of the current study were to examine fetuses and foals to infer whether the ring forms in response to biomechanical force or programming, to describe distribution and to investigate which cell type produces the ring. The material consisted of 46 fetuses and foals from 293days of gestation to 142days old, of both sexes and different breeds, divided into three groups, designated the naive group up to and including the day of birth, the adapting group from 2days up to and including 14days old, and the loaded group from 15days and older. The distal tibia was sawn into parasagittal slabs and the cranial half of the central slab from the intermediate ridge was examined by light microscopy and immunohistochemical staining for collagen type I. Presence, completeness and location of the collagen ring was compared, as was the quantity of perivascular mesenchymal cells. An eosinophilic ring present on HE-stained sections was seen in every single fetus and foal examined, which corresponded to collagen type I in immunostained sections. A higher proportion of cartilage canals were surrounded by an eosinophilic ring in the naive and adapting groups at 73 and 76%, respectively, compared with the loaded group at 51%. When considering only patent canals, the proportion of canals with an eosinophilic ring was higher in the adapting and loaded than the naive group of foals. The ring was present around 90 and 81% of patent canals in the deep and middle layers, respectively, compared with 58% in the superficial layer, and the ring was more often complete around deep compared with superficial canals. The ring was absent or partial around chondrifying canals. When an eosinophilic ring was present around patent canals, it was more common for the canal to contain one or more layers of perivascular mesenchymal cells rather than few to no layers. It was also more common for the collagen ring to be more complete around canals that contained many as opposed to few mesenchymal cells. In conclusion, the proportion of cartilage canals that had an eosinophilic ring was similar in all three groups of fetuses and foals, indicating that the presence of the collagen ring was mostly programmed, although some adaptation was evident. The ring was more often present around deep, compared with superficial canals, indicating a role in preparation for ossification. The collagen ring appeared to be produced by perivascular mesenchymal cells.


cartilage canal; collagen type I; epiphyseal growth cartilage; foal; histology; immunohistochemical staining; osteochondrosis; tibia

Published in

Journal of Anatomy
2017, Volume: 231, number: 4, pages: 615-625