Postnatal Development of the Human Sternum

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Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics


Postnatal development and maturation of the human sternum are highly variable. Endochondral ossification centers (sternebrae) form within each cartilaginous segment of the sternum, with each center enveloped by a spherical growth plate. Within a cartilaginous center there may be either one or two ossification centers, those with two centers retaining and reflecting features of their bilateral embryonic origin. Malaligned bifid centers are clearly associated with rib articulation asymmetry as well. Expansion of individual ossification centers progresses within the peripheral cartilaginous domains of the sternum. With respect to the rostrocaudal axis, sternebrae form between the costosternal articulations. Consistent with the biology of endochondral transition, cartilage canals are evident throughout unossified regions of the hyaline matrix. Expanding ossification of adjacent sternebrae results in depletion of the common area of cartilage between the two sternebrae, and eventually in physiologic epiphysiodesis. Fusion of the mesosternebrae reciprocates the initial pattern of sternebral ossification site appearance, proceeding in a caudal-to-cranial direction. Union of adjacent sternebrae, initiated through a central osseous bridge, progresses through anterior, lateral, cephalocaudal, and posterior domains to achieve synostosis. Accessory and bifid centers of ossification within the same intercostal space coalesce prior to adjoining adjacent sternebrae. Manubriosternal fusion is rare due to the presence of a fibrocartilaginous joint restricting ossification. The xiphoid process remains connected to the most caudal mesosternum via a common zone of hyaline cartilage that ossifies by middle to late adulthood. A single pattern of development does not appear fundamental to successful growth of the sternum, as morphological variants were common.



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Endochondral ossification, Postnatal development, Sternebrae, Sternum