The repair of a fracture necessarily entails synthesis of osseous tissue requiring the transformation of undifferentiated osteochondral progenitor cells to mature osteoblasts and chondrocytes. Owen and Friedenstein proposed that there are stem cells for all mesenchymal tissues, resident in bone marrow throughout life, that have a lineage comparable to that described for hematopoiesis. Subsequent with this initial study, marrow derived and periosteal derived progenitor cells have been shown to produce bone and cartilage in numerous in vivo and in vitro studies. The differentiation process appears to depend heavily on the influences of numerous cytokines, especially the transforming growth factor beta superfamily. Initial cartilage formation from progenitor cells is important in any secondary fracture repair. In the vitro study of chondrogenesis, the marrow derived progenitor cells were shown to differentiate into their terminal phenotype, the hypertrophic chondrocyte, as indicated by the detection of Type X collagen messenger ribonucleic acid and protein. A concomitant elevation in the alkaline phosphatase level suggests that these cells are ready to mineralize. Despite the importance of these cells in fracture repair, the characterization of these cells and the mechanism of their differentiation have only begun to be explored.

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