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What is Bone Growth? - Process, Factors, Causes & Disorders

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Instructor: Betsy Chesnutt

Betsy has a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the University of Memphis, M.S. from the University of Virginia, and B.S. from Mississippi State University. She has over 10 years of experience developing STEM curriculum and teaching physics, engineering, and biology.

Bones are an important part of the human body, and their development and growth is a carefully regulated process that depends on the interactions of various cells, hormones, and vitamins. In this lesson, we will learn more about how bones grow and the disorders than can affect bone growth.

Overview of Bone Growth

Bones are a very important part of our bodies. They allow us to move, protect our internal organs, produce blood cells, and support all of the other tissues of the body. Bone begins to form before we are born, and bones continue to grow throughout childhood and adolescence. Several hormones and vitamins, including growth hormone and vitamin D, are critical for bone growth. In this lesson, you will learn more about how bones form and grow and what factors affect that process.

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  • 0:00 Overview of Bone Growth
  • 0:33 Early Bone Formation…
  • 1:43 Bone Growth in Childhood
  • 2:34 Hormones Regulating…
  • 3:59 Nutrition, Exercise,…
  • 5:38 Lesson Summary
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Early Bone Formation Before Birth

Bone formation begins very early in development, at about the third week of fetal life. Cartilage is produced in the shape of the future bone, and then osteoblasts, the cells that produce new bone, invade the cartilage and start to produce a substance called osteoid. Osteoid is made primarily of collagen and contains sites where calcium phosphate crystals will form. Calcium phosphate is the hard mineral that gives bone its strength. This process begins in the middle of the newly forming bone, at a site called the primary ossification center. As the bone develops, more bone is formed from the center outward towards the ends of the bone. Then, blood vessels grow into the bone, and it is reshaped by cells called osteoclasts so that there is a central cavity filled with bone marrow. At birth, the ends of bones are still mostly cartilage. The area at the end of all long bones, called the growth plate or secondary ossification center, allows more bone to be produced, causing the bone lengthen throughout childhood.

Bone Growth in Childhood

As children grow, their bones need to get longer. This happens at the ends of the bones at the growth plate. As the bones grow, cells in the growth plate first produce more cartilage to extend the bone and then osteoblasts come in and convert the cartilage to bone in the same way that they do when bones are first formed before birth. In this way, bones continue to grow longer and longer. Bones can continue to grow until about the age 16 to 20, when the growth plate turns completely to bone and no new cartilage can be added at the ends of the bones. When this happens, we say that the growth plate has closed. Damage to the growth plate by trauma or certain illnesses can cause the growth plate to close prematurely. This can cause one leg or arm to grow longer than the other.

Hormones Regulating Bone Growth

Regulation of bone growth in children is complex and mediated by the action of several hormones. The most important is growth hormone. Produced in the pituitary gland, growth hormone stimulates the production of new cartilage in the growth plates and causes the bones to grow longer. Damage to the pituitary gland and several genetic diseases, such as Turner syndrome and Prader-Willi Syndrome, can cause growth hormone deficiencies and lead to failure of the bones to grow to normal lengths. Growth hormone deficiency in childhood is called pituitary dwarfism, and if not treated, can result in children failing to grow to normal heights. A disorder called acromegaly is characterized by an overproduction of growth hormone in adults. This causes certain bones to continue to grow past puberty and leads to gigantism. Patients with acromegaly typically have enlarged hands and feet and protruding jawbones, as these are the bones that often continue to grow the most.

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