A lot of investigations were published on the development and growth of the human condylar process. However, there is some discordance about the function of cartilage in mandibular growth. There is a controversy over whether the condylar cartilage acts as a primary growth zone or just as remodelling area. Thus, we were interested in the anatomical and histological conditions at the condylar process, especially the existence of an epiphyseal growth plate.
We analysed mandibles of historical skeletons and made serial sections of the mandibles of three human fetuses (31, 32 and 39 weeks of gestational age, respectively) and of one newborn infant. The serial sections were studied by light microscopy.
There was no indication for the existence of an epiphyseal growth plate at the condylar process. The condylar cartilage is divided into five different layers from the joint cavity to bone: (1) fibrocartilage layer, (2) mitosis layer, (3) prechondroblasts, (4) hyaline cartilage layer and (5) zone of enchondral ossification; our results are similar to those of Y. Ben-Ami et al., Acta Anat. 145: 79-87 (1992). Zone (2) and (3) can be considered as the proliferative layer. The growth potential of the condylar process seems to be caused by the proliferative layer formed by zone (2) and (3) of the cartilage.