Fracture healing is a complex physiologic process that involves the coordinated participation of several cell types. By using a reproducible model of experimental fracture healing in the rat, it is possible to elucidate the integrated cellular responses that signal the pathways and the role of the extracellular matrix components in orchestrating the events of fracture healing. Histologic characterization of fracture healing shows that intramembranous ossification occurs under the periosteum within a few days after an injury. Events of endochondral ossification occur adjacent to the fracture site and span a period of up to 28 days. Remodeling of the woven bone formed by intramembranous and endochondral ossification proceeds for several weeks. Spatial and temporal expression of genes for major collagens (Types I and II), minor fibrillar collagens (Types IV and XI), and several extracellular matrix components (osteocalcin, osteonectin, osteopontin, fibronectin and CD44) are detected by in situ hybridization. Immunohistochemical studies show that expression of proliferating cell nuclear antigen is both time and space dependent and differentially expressed in the callus tissues formed by the intramembranous and endochondral processes. Chondrocytes involved in endochondral ossification undergo apoptosis (programmed cell death), and early events in fracture healing may be initiated by the expression of early response genes such as c-fos. Additional characterization and elucidation of fracture healing will lay the foundation for subsequent studies aimed at identifying mechanisms for enhancing skeletal repair.

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