Transforming growth factor-betas (TGF-β) have been demonstrated to be upregulated during osteoblast function in vitro and during cranial suture fusion in vivo. The authors hypothesized that spontaneous reossification of calvarial defects was also associated with upregulation of TGF-β. The present study was designed to (1) evaluate the concept of a critical-size defect within the calvaria in an adult guinea pig model and (2) investigate the association between the reossification of calvarial defects and TGF-β upregulation. Paired circular parietal defects with diameters of 3 and 5 mm and single parietal defects with diameters of 8 or 12 mm were made in 45 six-month-old skeletally mature guinea pigs. Three animals per defect size were killed after survival periods of 3 days, 1 week, 4 weeks, 8 weeks, or 12 weeks. New bone ingrowth was evaluated by assessing for linear closure by a traditional linear method and by a modified cross-sectional area method using an image analysis system in which the thickness of new bone was taken into account. Immunohistochemistry was performed using rabbit polyclonal antibodies to localize TGF-β1, -β2, and -β3. All specimens were photographed, and the intensity of immunostaining was graded based on subjective photographic assessment by three independent reviewers. No defect demonstrated any measurable bone replacement after a survival period of 3 days. All 3- and 5-mm defects were completely reossified after 12 weeks based on the linear analysis of new bone, indicating these defects to be less than critical size. However, new bone formation in the 5-mm defects never exceeded a mean of 40 percent by cross-sectional area of new bone. Percent of new bone formation by cross-sectional area was significantly higher within 3-mm defects than in all larger defects 4 weeks after the craniotomy, reaching a mean of 89 percent new bone by 12 weeks. Persistent gaps were noted on linear analysis of the 8- and 12-mm wounds by 12 weeks, and mean percent new bone by cross-sectional area remained below 30 percent. Immunolocalization demonstrated osteogenic fronts at the advancing bone edge and the endocranial side, in which the osteoblasts stained strongly for all isoforms of TGF-β. The intensity of osteoblast expression waned considerably after the majority of the defect had reossified. These data indicate that histometric analysis based on cross-sectional area more accurately reflects the osteogenic potential of a cranial defect than does linear inspection of defect closure. Although the interpretation of immunolocalization studies is highly subjective, independent assessment by three reviewers indicates that isoforms of TGF-β were upregulated during a limited 'window' of time corresponding to the period of active calvarial reossification, and expression of TGF-β corresponded to osteoblast activity within osteogenic fronts.
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