Endochondral bone formation at epiphyseal growth plate consists of the synchronized processes of chondrogenesis and cartilage ossification. Estrogen, the major female sex hormone, plays an important role in this process, particularly during the pubertal growth spurt. However, its effects on the growth plate are not completely understood. The aims of this study were to clarify the effects of estrogen on the kinetics of chondrocytes in the growth plates of 10- to 25-week-old female rabbits by studying the effects of ovariectomy or high-dose administration of estrogen on the balance between cell proliferation and death. Forty-eight Japanese white rabbits were divided into three groups: sham operated, ovariectomized, or ovariectomized with subsequent weekly injection of high dose estrogen from 10 weeks. The chondrocyte kinetics was investigated by histomorphometry and immunohistochemistry, using antibodies for caspase-3, a marker of apoptosis, and for proliferating cell nuclear antigen. Both ovariectomized and estrogen-injected rabbits showed a declination of the chondrocyte number although the latter animals indicated a more dramatic effect. Estrogen-injected rabbits showed a decrease in the cell proliferating ability together with an increase in chondrocytes undergoing apoptosis while ovariectomy mainly reduced the cell proliferating ability. Given the known importance of estrogen for bone growth, one would expect that ovariectomy and high-dose administration of estrogen would have opposite effects. However, the present study indicated that both low and high concentration had a similar effect: a decrease in the chondrocyte number compared with control, suggesting that estrogen has to be maintained within a narrow range for optimal bone growth.