Non-linear optical microscopy of cartilage canals in the distal femur of young pigs may reveal the cause of articular osteochondrosis
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionBMC Veterinary Research. 2017, 13 270-?. 10.1186/s12917-017-1197-y
Background Articular osteochondrosis is a common cause of leg weakness in pigs and is defined as a focal delay in the endochondral ossification of the epiphysis. The first demonstrated steps in the pathogenesis consist of loss of blood supply and subsequent chondronecrosis in the epiphyseal growth cartilage. Blood vessels in cartilage are located in cartilage canals and become incorporated into the secondary ossification centre during growth. It has been hypothesized that vascular failure occurs during this incorporation process, but it is not known what predisposes a canal to fail. To obtain new information that may reveal the cause of vascular failure, the distal femur of 4 pigs aged 82–140 days was sampled and examined by non-linear optical microscopy. This novel technique was used for its ability to reveal information about collagen by second harmonic generation and cellular morphology by two-photon-excited fluorescence in thick sections without staining. The aims were to identify morphological variations between cartilage canal segments and to examine if failed cartilage canals could be followed back to the location where the blood supply ceased. Results The cartilage canals were shown to vary in their content of collagen fibres (112/412 segments), and the second harmonic and fluorescence signals indicated a variation in the bundling of collagen fibrils (245/412 segments) and in the calcification (30/412 segments) of the adjacent cartilage matrix. Failed cartilage canals associated with chondronecrosis were shown to enter the epiphyseal growth cartilage from not only the secondary ossification centre, but also the attachment site of the caudal cruciate ligament. Conclusion The variations between cartilage canal segments could potentially explain why the blood supply fails at the osteochondral junction in only a subset of the canals. Proteins linked to these variations should be examined in future genomic studies. Although incorporation can still be a major cause, it could not account for all cases of vascular failure. The role of the caudal cruciate ligament in the cause of osteochondrosis should therefore be investigated further.