Osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD) is a focal failure of endochondral ossification of the epiphysis characterized by the presence of cartilage flaps and osteochondral fragments. The objective of this study was to image epiphyseal development in the equine pelvic limb to determine whether there was a variation in site maturation that could be a predisposing factor for OCD.
Pelvic limbs (fetuses and foals) were studied post-mortem. The epiphyses of the distal femur, tibia and talus were scanned with computed tomography (CT) and 1.5 T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to investigate the degree and pattern of ossification, the regularity of the ossification front and cartilage percentage (articular epiphyseal cartilage thickness as a percentage of total epiphyseal diameter) at predetermined sites.
The secondary ossification centers (SOCs) were first identified in the femoral epiphyses at 7 months, and both tibia and talus at 8 months of gestation (MOG). At ⩾8 MOG the cartilage percentage was higher at the majority of OCD-susceptible sites when compared to control sites. At 8–9 MOG the lateral trochlear ridge of the femur, medial malleolus of the tibia (MM), cranial part of the distal intermediate ridge of the tibia (DIRT(Cr)), all OCD susceptible sites, had the greatest cartilage percentage compared to all other sites assessed. Post-partum, the cartilage percentage of the MM and DIRT(Cr), common sites of OCD, remained high.
CT and MRI images illustrate equine epiphyseal development and provide additional evidence that greater cartilage thickness at specific joint sites could play a role in the development of OCD.