Bone Growth & Development Factors: Endochondral Ossification

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  • 0:05 Two Processes of Bone…
  • 0:56 Intramembranous Ossification
  • 1:56 Endochondral Ossification
  • 2:51 How Ossification Works
  • 4:07 Bone Growth After Birth
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laura Enzor

Laura has a Master's degree in Biology and is working on her PhD in Biology. She specializes in teaching Human Physiology at USC.

In this lesson, you will learn about the two ways we form bones: intramembranous ossification and endochondral ossification. You'll also discover how our bones grow after we're born.

Two Processes of Bone Formation

A fetal skeleton has 275 bones, while a adult skeleton has only 206 due to bone fusion.
Fetal and Adult Skeleton

We obviously have a lot of growing to do after we're born. Not only do our bones need to get longer and thicker as we grow, but an adult skeleton is very different from a fetal or infant skeleton. A fetal skeleton has about 275 bones and a fairly high percentage of cartilage (this helps the skeleton to be somewhat flexible). Compare that to an adult skeleton, which has 206 bones and a much smaller percentage of cartilage. We fuse several bones together as we age, which accounts for the decrease in bone number.

There are two main processes that occur during fetal development that contribute to our bone formation. These are intramembranous ossification and endochondral ossification. The term 'ossification' refers to the process of forming bone. There are a couple of things that distinguish these two processes from one another.

Intramembranous Ossification

Intramembranous ossification occurs primarily during the initial formation of the flat bones of our skull. This process is also responsible for forming our jaw and clavicles, or collar bones. Intramembranous ossification also helps with healing bone fractures. The bone is formed from a specific type of connective tissue called mesenchyme connective tissue.

Mesenchymal cells are cells that have not been differentiated yet.
Mesenchyme Cells

Mesenchyme connective tissue is made up of mesenchymal, or stem, cells. These cells are interesting because they haven't differentiated yet. This means that it hasn't been determined what this cell is specifically going to be. It could be a bone cell, cartilage cell, muscle cell, or even a fat cell! When you were little, how many times did you change your answer when asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? You could have said an astronaut, a doctor, or a fireman; anything was possible. This is how a mesenchymal cell works. It's going to be something, but that specific something hasn't been determined yet.

Endochondral Ossification

Endochondral ossification is essential for the formation of long bones (bones that are longer than they are wide, such as the femur, or thigh, bone and the humerus - the bone in your upper arm), as well as short bones (bones that are shorter than they are wide, such as the carpals and tarsals that make up your wrist and ankle). This process also forms the ends of flat and irregular bones (flat bones are flat, such as your ribs, and irregular bones are irregularly shaped, such as your vertebrae). Endochondral ossification is also part of the process that lengthens long bones, as well as the natural healing of small bone fractures.

Like intramembranous ossification, endochondral ossification starts with mesenchymal cells. However, the primary way endochondral ossification is distinguished from intramembranous ossification is the fact that cartilage is present during endochondral ossification.

How Ossification Works

Intramembranous ossification starts by developing the ossification center, or the point where bone formation starts to occur. The next step is calcification, or the accumulation of calcium to help form bone tissue. This step continues until the bones of our skull are formed. This is similar to snow accumulation. You start with a single snowflake and keep adding more and more until you end up with a few feet of snow! Finally, the periosteum is formed, which is the outside lining of all bones.

The periosteum is formed after the calcification of cartilage.

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