How do deer antlers grow

Deer antlers explain bone growth

Deer antlers can grow up to two centimeters per day during a summer. Year after year, the animals build several kilograms of bone material with which they impress in the rut and fight rank battles. Researchers at the University of Göttingen now want to better understand the growth of human bones with the help of deer antlers. The aim of the project, led by the biologist Hans Joachim Rolf, is the search for molecular factors that regulate and accelerate the growth of bone cells.

Antlers resemble human bones

The structure of the antlers is very similar to the human long bones. This similarity and the enormous growth of the antlers make deer ideal study objects for medical research. The scientists take biopsy samples from the growing antler bone, which they then grow and examine in the laboratory.

The biologist Hans Joachim Rolf has succeeded in growing cells from the bone samples of the growing deer antlers in the culture dish. The cells developed spatial structures without any further influence. Within weeks to a few months, cell suspensions grew into structures and pieces of tissue up to 0.8 times a centimeter in size, the internal structure of which was similar to that of natural antlers. The results show that the “stem cells” from regrowing antler bones contain the complete information for the formation of complex bone structures.

Which cells are responsible for the enormous growth of deer bones

As part of the DFG research project, the research team now wants to use molecular and cell biological techniques to separate different cell types from the deer antler samples and attract them in different combinations in the culture dish. The team hopes to obtain information about which cell types or which signals cause the enormous growth performance of the bone. In their investigations, the scientists cooperate with working groups in Canada and Europe.

Both oral surgeons and orthopedists are interested in the results of this basic research. They hope to be able to improve the stability and installation of implants and prostheses in the bones with the help of the results from antler bone research.

Prostheses should grow in place better

Doctors already use patient bone precursor cells to a limited extent to coat the implant in the culture dish before it is inserted. The Göttingen researchers suspect that signaling substances that regulate the growth of deer antlers can also accelerate the colonization of human implants in the culture dish. For example, prostheses soaked with certain factors should bond better. However, further research is required, because "we also have to know the opponents of such signals, otherwise the bones may continue to grow," says Dr.


Research on bone growth in deer antlers continues to produce surprising results today. It was only five years ago that Rolf was able to refute the textbook opinion that the fully grown antlers on a deer's head consisted of dead bones after the so-called “sweeping”. “The antlers are alive, just like any other bone in the body. Blood vessels and maybe even nerves supply the long bones right up to the tip, ”says Rolf. The deer can even heal small cracks inside its antlers.

(idw - University of Göttingen, October 14, 2004 - DLO)

October 14, 2004