Chondrocytes of the growth plate are generally assumed to undergo apoptosis, but the mechanisms which induce this cell death are not known. The Fas receptor is a mediator of the apoptotic signal in some systems. We studied its expression in situ in growth plates of rabbits aged from five to 20 weeks. In addition, we investigated the immunolocalisation in the growth plates of the bone proteins, osteonectin and osteocalcin, and the changes in their expression with age. The Fas-positive chondrocytes were found mostly in the hypertrophic zone, as were the osteonectin-positive and osteocalcin-positive cells. The percentage of Fas-positive cells increased with age whereas little change was found in the number of osteonectin-positive and osteocalcin-positive chondrocytes. Many of the Fas-positive chondrocytes were also TUNEL-positive. This strongly suggests that apoptosis in the growth plate is mediated through the Fas system. Double immunostaining for osteocalcin and Fas showed that not all hypertrophic chondrocytes were of the same cell type. Some chondrocytes stained for osteocalcin only, others for Fas only, while some were positive for both.