Children’s longitudinal growth is facilitated by the activity of the growth plates, cartilage discs located near the ends of the long-bones. In order to elongate these bones, growth plates must continuously generate chondrocytes. Two recent studies have demonstrated that there are stem cells and a stem cell niche in the growth plate, which govern the generation of chondrocytes during the postnatal growth period. The niche, which allows stem cells to renew, appears at the same time as the secondary ossification center (SOC) matures into a bone epiphysis. Thus, the mechanism of chondrocyte generation differs substantially between neonatal and postnatal age, i.e., before and after the formation of the mineralized epiphyses. Hence, at the neonatal age bone growth is based on a consumption of chondro-progenitors whereas postnatally it is based on the activity of the stem cell niche. Here we discuss potential implications of these observations in relation to longitudinal growth, including the effects of estrogens, nutrition and growth hormone.
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