Meckel's chondrocytes, derived from the ectomesenchyme, have the potential to transform into other phenotypes. In this study, we transplanted cell pellets of Meckel's chondrocytes into isogenic mouse spleens and analyzed their phenotypic transformation into osteogenic cells using histological and immunohistochemical methods. With the increasing duration of transplantation, chondrocytes were incorporated into splenic tissues and formed a von Kossa-positive calcified matrix containing calcium and phosphoric acid, similar to that of intact bone. Type I, II, and X collagens, and the bone-marker proteins osteocalcin, osteopontin, osteonectin, and bone morphogenetic protein-2 (BMP-2) were immunolocalized in the matrix formed by the transplanted chondrocytes. Osteopontin and osteonectin were detected in the calcified matrix at earlier stages than osteocalcin and BMP-2. Type II collagen was expressed during the first week of transplantation, and type X collagen-positive cells appeared scattered during the initial stage of calcification, these collagens being later replaced by type I collagen formed by osteocyte-like cells. Electron microscopic observations revealed that chondrocytes surrounded by the calcified matrix transformed into spindle-shaped osteocytic cells accompanying the formation of bone-type thick-banded collagen fibrils. These results suggest that phenotypic switching of Meckel's chondrocytes can occur under in vivo conditions at a cellular morphological level.
2009 by International Society of Histology and Cytology