Musculoskeletal System - Joint Development

From Embryology
Embryology - 17 Feb 2018    Facebook link Pinterest link Twitter link  Expand to Translate  
Google Translate - select your language from the list shown below (this will open a new external page)

العربية | català | 中文 | 中國傳統的 | français | Deutsche | עִברִית | हिंदी | bahasa Indonesia | italiano | 日本語 | 한국어 | မြန်မာ | Pilipino | Polskie | português | ਪੰਜਾਬੀ ਦੇ | Română | русский | Español | Swahili | Svensk | ไทย | Türkçe | اردو | ייִדיש | Tiếng Việt    These external translations are automated and may not be accurate. (More? About Translations)


Developing distal phalangeal joint

In the adult, the region where two skeletal bones meet and articulate is called a "joint", that are classified based upon their: anatomical structure, mobility and shape.

In the embryo, the majority of the vertebrate skeleton is initially formed as a cartilage template, that is later replaced by bone except at the interface between two adjacent bones, leaving in the adult a layer of cartilage in this region. The musculoskeletal system consists of skeletal muscle, bone, and cartilage and is mainly mesoderm in origin with some neural crest contribution.

Joint Links: Temporomandibular Joint | Joint Development | Category:Joint | Musculoskeletal System Development

Historic Embryology: 1940 Synovial Joints

Musculoskeletal Links: Introduction | Mesoderm | Somitogenesis | Limb | Cartilage | Bone | Bone Timeline | Axial Skeleton | Skull | Joint | Muscle | Muscle Timeline | Tendon | Diaphragm | Lecture - Musculoskeletal Development | Lecture Movie | Abnormalities | Limb Abnormalities | Cartilage Histology | Bone Histology | Skeletal Muscle Histology | Category:Musculoskeletal
Historic Musculoskeletal Embryology  
1902 - Pubo-femoral Region | Spinal Column and Back | Body Segmentation | Cranium | Body Wall, Ribs, and Sternum | Limbs | 1901 - Limbs | 1902 - Arm Development | 1906 Human Embryo Ossification | 1906 Lower limb Nerves and Muscle | 1907 - Muscular System | Skeleton and Limbs | 1908 Vertebra | 1909 Mandible | 1910 - Skeleton and Connective Tissues | Muscular System | Coelom and Diaphragm | 1913 Clavicle | 1920 Clavicle | 1921 - External body form | Connective tissues and skeletal | Muscular | Diaphragm | 1929 Rat Somite | 1932 Pelvis | 1940 Synovial Joints | 1943 Human Embryonic, Fetal and Circumnatal Skeleton | 1947 Joints | 1949 Cartilage and Bone | 1957 Chondrification Hands and Feet | 1968 Knee

Some Recent Findings

  • Mechanobiological simulations of prenatal joint morphogenesis[1] "Joint morphogenesis is the process in which prenatal joints acquire their reciprocal and interlocking shapes. Despite the clinical importance of the process, it remains unclear how joints acquire their shapes. In this study, we simulate 3D mechanobiological joint morphogenesis for which the effects of a range of movements (or lack of movement) and different initial joint shapes are explored. We propose that static hydrostatic compression inhibits cartilage growth while dynamic hydrostatic compression promotes cartilage growth."
  • The development of synovial joints. [2] "The position of future joints is first delimited by areas of higher cell density called interzones initially through an as yet unidentified inductive signal, subsequently specification of these regions is controlled hierarchically by wnt14 and gdf5, respectively. Joint-forming cell fate although specified is not fixed, and joints will fuse if growth factor signaling is perturbed."
  • Transcription factor ERG and joint and articular cartilage formation[3] "ets transcription factor ERG is part of molecular mechanisms leading chondrocytes into a permanent developmental path and become joint forming cells, and may do so by acting downstream of joint master regulator protein GDF-5"
More recent papers  
Mark Hill.jpg
PubMed logo.gif

This table shows an automated computer PubMed search using the listed sub-heading term.

  • Therefore the list of references do not reflect any editorial selection of material based on content or relevance.
  • References appear in this list based upon the date of the actual page viewing.

References listed on the rest of the content page and the associated discussion page (listed under the publication year sub-headings) do include some editorial selection based upon both relevance and availability.

Links: References | Discussion Page | Pubmed Most Recent | Journal Searches

Search term: Joint Development

Ali Mobasheri, Csaba Matta, Ilona Uzielienè, Emma Budd, Pablo Martín-Vasallo, Eiva Bernotiene The Chondrocyte Channelome: A Narrative Review. Joint Bone Spine: 2018; PubMed 29452304

Andreu Fernández-Codina, Blanca Pinilla, Iago Pinal-Fernández, Cristina López, Guadalupe Fraile-Rodríguez, Eva Fonseca-Aizpuru, Iago Carballo, Pilar Brito-Zerón, Carlos Feijóo-Massó, Miguel López-Dupla, Maria Cinta Cid, Fernando Martínez-Valle, Spanish Registry of IgG4 Related Disease (REERIGG4) investigators, Autoimmune Diseases Group (GEAS), Spanish Internal Medicine Society (SEMI) Treatment and outcomes in patients with IgG4-related disease using the IgG4 responder index. Joint Bone Spine: 2018; PubMed 29452298

Kai Fan, Min Zhang Recent Developments in the Food Quality Detected by Non-Invasive Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Technology. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr: 2018;1-58 PubMed 29451810

Aijian Wang, Jun Ye, Mark G Humphrey, Chi Zhang Graphene and Carbon-Nanotube Nanohybrids Covalently Functionalized by Porphyrins and Phthalocyanines for Optoelectronic Properties. Adv. Mater. Weinheim: 2018; PubMed 29450914

Cassandra Vonnes, Darcy Wolf Fall risk and prevention agreement: engaging patients and families with a partnership for patient safety. BMJ Open Qual: 2017, 6(2);e000038 PubMed 29450267

Joint Types

Joint development 02.jpg


  • Fibrous (synarthrodial) - immoveable joints found in cranial vault and teeth
  • Cartilagenous (synchondroses and sympheses) - partially moveable joints
  • Synovial (diarthrosis) - freely moveable joints are the most common found in the skeleton


Mouse neck joint articular cartilage. Cartilage Histology
  • Hinge - (elbow and knee) Flexion/Extension
  • Pivot - (neck, atlas and axis bones) Rotation of one bone around another
  • Ball and Socket - (shoulder and hip)
  • Saddle - (thumb)
  • Condyloid - (wrist joints)
  • Gliding - (intercarpal joints) Gliding movements

Synovial Joint Development

Skeletal joint cavity development (cavitation) occurs along planes of the future articular surfaces of synovial joints. A number of different markers have been shown to be present in the interzone at the time of cavitation (hyaluronan and hyaluronan synthase, but not chondroitin sulphates).

Fibroblast-like cells (and/or adjacent chondrocytes) with uridine-diphospho glucose dehydrogenase (UDPGD) activity contribute to glycosaminoglycan levels (increases in hyaluronan). These cells are located on the intimal surface of the synovial lining and have been suggested as the possible cavitation mechanism, switching from cellular cohesion to dissociation.[4]

Synovial Joint


In human embryo at week 7 the femur and tibia cartilage template is present (stage 18), by week 8 the posterior cruciate ligament appears (stage 21), and by stage 23 the knee cavity and the anterior cruciate ligament are both also present.[5]

Joint Morphogenesis cartoon.jpg Knee Morphogenesis
  • a - The first sign of a presumptive joint is a condensation of Col2+ limb bud progenitors at the presumptive joint site.
  • b - Joint specification is marked by induction of Gdf5 in the interzone and downregulation of Col2a1.
  • c - A joint space is formed by cavitation after progenitors for a variety of secondary joint structures are specified from the Gdf5+ progenitor pool.
  • d - Maturation of the synovial joint of the knee occurs during development and early postnatal life.

Adult Knee

  • e - Schematic representation of a healthy human knee.
  • f - Joint health in adult life is affected by genetics and environmental factors such as nutrition and exercise. Loss of joint homeostasis can trigger degenerative joint diseases such as osteoarthritis, which is characterized by degradation of articular and meniscal cartilage, formation of bone spurs and pain.

Figure from recent BMP review.[6]

Joint Abnormalities

FGFR-Related Craniosynostosis Syndromes

Pfeiffer syndrome, Apert syndrome, Crouzon syndrome, Beare-Stevenson syndrome, FGFR2-related isolated coronal synostosis, Jackson-Weiss syndrome, Crouzon syndrome with acanthosis nigricans (AN), and Muenke syndrome

Links: GeneReviews - FGFR-Related Craniosynostosis Syndromes)

Multiple Epiphyseal Dysplasia

Links: GeneReviews - Multiple Epiphyseal Dysplasia)


Arthrogryposis (arthrogryposis multiplex congenital, AMC) is a congenital joint contracture occurring in two or more body regions.

Large range of causes including:

  • single-gene disorders autosomal recessive, autosomal dominant or X-linked traits.
  • part of chromosomal disorders (Trisomy 18, many microdeletions and micro duplications)
  • connective tissue disorders

Temporomandibular Disorders


Clutton's joints

Historic clinical term for a symmetrical joint swelling occurring in patients of both sexes between 5 to 20 years of age with congenital syphilis. Joint swelling is usually in the knees, but can also affect the ankles, elbows, wrists and fingers. Named after Henry Hugh Clutton who first described the condition in 1886.

Links: Abnormal Development - Syphilis)


  1. Mario Giorgi, Alessandra Carriero, Sandra J Shefelbine, Niamh C Nowlan Mechanobiological simulations of prenatal joint morphogenesis. J Biomech: 2014, 47(5);989-95 PubMed 24529755
  2. I M Khan, S N Redman, R Williams, G P Dowthwaite, S F Oldfield, C W Archer The development of synovial joints. Curr. Top. Dev. Biol.: 2007, 79;1-36 PubMed 17498545
  3. Masahiro Iwamoto, Yoshihiro Tamamura, Eiki Koyama, Toshihisa Komori, Nobuo Takeshita, Julie A Williams, Takashi Nakamura, Motomi Enomoto-Iwamoto, Maurizio Pacifici Transcription factor ERG and joint and articular cartilage formation during mouse limb and spine skeletogenesis. Dev. Biol.: 2007, 305(1);40-51 PubMed 17336282
  4. J C Edwards, L S Wilkinson, H M Jones, P Soothill, K J Henderson, J G Worrall, A A Pitsillides The formation of human synovial joint cavities: a possible role for hyaluronan and CD44 in altered interzone cohesion. J. Anat.: 1994, 185 ( Pt 2);355-67 PubMed 7525525
  5. J A Mérida-Velasco, I Sánchez-Montesinos, J Espín-Ferra, J R Mérida-Velasco, J F Rodríguez-Vázquez, J Jiménez-Collado Development of the human knee joint ligaments. Anat. Rec.: 1997, 248(2);259-68 PubMed 9185992
  6. Valerie S Salazar, Laura W Gamer, Vicki Rosen BMP signalling in skeletal development, disease and repair. Nat Rev Endocrinol: 2016; PubMed 26893264

Online Textbooks

Developmental Biology Gilbert, Scott F. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates, Inc. ; c2000 Forming the joints



Ryan B Rountree, Michael Schoor, Hao Chen, Melissa E Marks, Vincent Harley, Yuji Mishina, David M Kingsley BMP receptor signaling is required for postnatal maintenance of articular cartilage. PLoS Biol.: 2004, 2(11);e355 PubMed 15492776

J A Mérida-Velasco, I Sánchez-Montesinos, J Espín-Ferra, J R Mérida-Velasco, J F Rodríguez-Vázquez, J Jiménez-Collado Development of the human elbow joint. Anat. Rec.: 2000, 258(2);166-75 PubMed 10645964

E Koyama, J L Leatherman, A Shimazu, H D Nah, M Pacifici Syndecan-3, tenascin-C, and the development of cartilaginous skeletal elements and joints in chick limbs. Dev. Dyn.: 1995, 203(2);152-62 PubMed 7544653

J C Edwards, L S Wilkinson, H M Jones, P Soothill, K J Henderson, J G Worrall, A A Pitsillides The formation of human synovial joint cavities: a possible role for hyaluronan and CD44 in altered interzone cohesion. J. Anat.: 1994, 185 ( Pt 2);355-67 PubMed 7525525

Search PubMed

Search July 2010 "Joint Development" All (19900) Review (3137) Free Full Text (3325)

Search Pubmed: Joint Development

Additional Images

External Links

External Links Notice - The dynamic nature of the internet may mean that some of these listed links may no longer function. If the link no longer works search the web with the link text or name. Links to any external commercial sites are provided for information purposes only and should never be considered an endorsement. UNSW Embryology is provided as an educational resource with no clinical information or commercial affiliation.

Glossary Links

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z | Numbers | Symbols

Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2018, February 17) Embryology Musculoskeletal System - Joint Development. Retrieved from

What Links Here?
© Dr Mark Hill 2018, UNSW Embryology ISBN: 978 0 7334 2609 4 - UNSW CRICOS Provider Code No. 00098G