Journal of anatomy

Early effects of embryonic movement: 'a shot out of the dark'.

PMID 16637868


It has long been appreciated that studying the embryonic chick in ovo provides a variety of advantages, including the potential to control the embryo's environment and its movement independently of maternal influences. This allowed early workers to identify movement as a pivotal factor in the development of the locomotor apparatus. With an increasing focus on the earliest detectable movements, we have exploited this system by developing novel models and schemes to examine the influence of defined periods of movement during musculoskeletal development. Utilizing drugs with known neuromuscular actions to provoke hyperactivity (4-aminopyridine, AP) and either rigid (decamethonium bromide, DMB) or flaccid (pancuronium bromide, PB) paralysis, we have examined the role of movement in joint, osteochondral and muscle development. Our initial studies focusing on the joint showed that AP-induced hyperactivity had little, if any, effect on the timing or scope of joint cavity elaboration, suggesting that endogenous activity levels provide sufficient stimulus, and additional mobilization is without effect. By contrast, imposition of either rigid or flaccid paralysis prior to cavity formation completely blocked this process and, with time, produced fusion of cartilaginous elements and formation of continuous single cartilaginous rods across locations where joints would ordinarily form. The effect of these distinct forms of paralysis differed, however, when treatment was initiated after formation of an overt cavity; rigid, but not flaccid, paralysis partly conserved precavitated joints. This observation suggests that 'static' loading derived from 'spastic' rigidity can act to preserve joint cavities. Another facet of these studies was the observation that DMB-induced rigid paralysis produces a uniform and specific pattern of limb deformity whereas PB generated a diverse range of fixed positional deformities. Both also reduced limb growth, with different developmental periods preferentially modifying specific osteochondral components. Changes in cartilage and bone growth induced by 3-day periods of flaccid immobilization, imposed at distinct developmental phases, provides support for a diminution in cartilage elaboration at an early phase and for a relatively delayed influence of movement on osteogenesis, invoking critical periods during which the developing skeleton becomes receptive to the impact of movement. Immobilization also exerts differential impact along the proximo-distal axis of the limb. Finally, our preliminary results support the possibility that embryonic hyperactivity influences the potential for postnatal muscle growth.

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