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Patricia K Russell, Michele V Clarke, Jarrod P Skinner, Tammy P S Pang, Jeffrey D Zajac and Rachel A Davey

Androgens play a key role in skeletal growth and maintenance in males and can mediate their actions, at least in part, via the androgen receptor (AR) in osteoblasts. To investigate the mechanisms by which androgens exert their effects via the AR in mineralizing osteoblasts and osteocytes, we identified gene targets/pathways regulated by the AR using targeted gene expression and microarray approaches on bone isolated from mice in which the AR is specifically deleted in mineralizing osteoblasts and osteocytes (mOBL-ARKOs). Gene ontology mining indicated a number of biological processes to be affected in the bones of mOBL-ARKOs including skeletal and muscular system development and carbohydrate metabolism. All genes identified to have altered expression in the bones of mOBL-ARKOs were confirmed by Q-PCR for their androgen responsiveness in an androgen deprivation and replacement mouse model. The osteoblast genes Col1a1 and Bglap and the osteoclast genes Ctsk and RANKL (Tnfs11) were upregulated in the bones of mOBL-ARKOs, consistent with the increased matrix synthesis, mineralization, and bone resorption observed previously in these mice. Of significant interest, we identified genes involved in carbohydrate metabolism (adiponectin and Dpp4) and in growth and development (GH, Tgfb (Tgfb2), Wnt4) as potential targets of androgen action via the AR in mineralizing osteoblasts.

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Kathryn L Auld, Stephen P Berasi, Yan Liu, Michael Cain, Ying Zhang, Christine Huard, Shoichi Fukayama, Jing Zhang, Sung Choe, Wenyan Zhong, Bheem M Bhat, Ramesh A Bhat, Eugene L Brown and Robert V Martinez

Based on its homology to the estrogen receptor and its roles in osteoblast and chondrocyte differentiation, the orphan nuclear receptor estrogen-related receptor α (ERRα (ESRRA)) is an intriguing therapeutic target for osteoporosis and other bone diseases. The objective of this study was to better characterize the molecular mechanisms by which ERRα modulates osteoblastogenesis. Experiments from multiple systems demonstrated that ERRα modulates Wnt signaling, a crucial pathway for proper regulation of bone development. This was validated using a Wnt-luciferase reporter, where ERRα showed co-activator-dependent (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma co-activator 1α, PGC-1α) stimulatory effects. Interestingly, knockdown of ERR α expression also enhanced WNT signaling. In combination, these data indicated that ERRα could serve to either activate or repress Wnt signaling depending on the presence or absence of its co-activator PGC-1α. The observed Wnt pathway modulation was cell intrinsic and did not alter β-catenin nuclear translocation but was dependent on DNA binding of ERRα. We also found that expression of active ERRα correlated with Wnt pathway effects on osteoblastic differentiation in two cell types, consistent with a role for ERRα in modulating the Wnt pathway. In conclusion, this work identifies ERRα, in conjunction with co-activators such as PGC-1α, as a new regulator of the Wnt-signaling pathway during osteoblast differentiation, through a cell-intrinsic mechanism not affecting β-catenin nuclear translocation.

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Tadeusz Niedźwiedzki and Joanna Filipowska

Bone is a dynamic tissue that undergoes constant remodeling. The appropriate course of this process determines development and regeneration of the skeleton. Tight molecular control of bone remodeling is vital for the maintenance of appropriate physiology and microarchitecture of the bone, providing homeostasis, also at the systemic level. The process of remodeling is regulated by a rich innervation of the skeleton, being the source of various growth factors, neurotransmitters, and hormones regulating function of the bone. Although the course of bone remodeling at the cellular level is mainly associated with the activity of osteoclasts and osteoblasts, recently also osteocytes have gained a growing interest as the principal regulators of bone turnover. Osteocytes play a significant role in the regulation of osteogenesis, releasing sclerostin (SOST), an inhibitor of bone formation. The process of bone turnover, especially osteogenesis, is also modulated by extra-skeletal molecules. Proliferation and differentiation of osteoblasts are promoted by the brain-derived serotonin and hypothetically inhibited by its intestinal equivalent. The activity of SOST and serotonin is either directly or indirectly associated with the canonical Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway, the main regulatory pathway of osteoblasts function. The impairment of bone remodeling may lead to many skeletal diseases, such as high bone mass syndrome or osteoporosis. In this paper, we review the most recent data on the cellular and molecular mechanisms of bone remodeling control, with particular emphasis on the role of osteocytes and the nervous system in this process.

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R Rizzoli, JP Bonjour and SL Ferrari

Osteoporosis is a systemic skeletal disease characterized by low bone mass and microarchitectural deterioration of bone tissue. At a given age, bone mass results from the amount of bone acquired during growth, i.e. the peak bone mass (Bonjour et al., 1991, Theintz et al. 1992) minus the age-related bone loss which particularly accelerates after menopause. The rate and magnitude of bone mass gain during the pubertal years and of bone loss in later life may markedly differ from one skeletal site to another, as well as from one individual to another. Bone mass gain is mainly related to increases in bone size, that is in bone external dimensions, with minimal changes in bone microarchitecture. In contrast, postmenopausal and age-related decreases in bone mass result from thinning of both cortices and trabeculae, from perforation and eventually disappearance of the latter, leading to significant alterations of the bone microarchitecture (Fig. 1).

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Siyi Zhu, Hongchen He, Chengfei Gao, Guojing Luo, Ying Xie, Haiming Wang, Li Tian, Xiang Chen, Xijie Yu and Chengqi He

We examined the effects of tumor necrosis factor-α (TNFα) and interleukin-6 (IL6) gene knockout in preserving the bone loss induced by ovariectomy (OVX) and the mechanisms involved in bone metabolism. Twenty female wild-type (WT), TNFα-knockout (TNFα−/−) or IL6-knockout (IL6−/−) mice aged 12 weeks were sham-operated (SHAM) or subjected to OVX and killed after 4 weeks. Bone mass and skeletal microarchitecture were determined using micro-CT. Bone marrow stromal cells (BMSCs) from all three groups (WT, TNFα−/− and IL6−/−) were induced to differentiate into osteoblasts or osteoclasts and treated with 17-β-estradiol. Bone metabolism was assessed by histological analysis, serum analyses and qRT-PCR. OVX successfully induced a high turnover in all mice, but a repair effect was observed in TNFα−/− and IL6−/− mice. The ratio of femoral trabecular bone volume to tissue volume, trabecular number and trabecular thickness were significantly decreased in WT mice subjected to OVX, but increased in TNFα−/− mice (1.62, 1.34, 0.27-fold respectively; P < 0.01) and IL6−/− mice (1.34, 0.80, 0.22-fold respectively; P < 0.01). Furthermore, we observed a 29.6% increase in the trabecular number in TNFα−/− mice when compared to the IL6−/− mice. Both, TNFα−/− and IL6−/− BMSCs exhibited decreased numbers of TRAP-positive cells and an increase in ALP-positive cells, with or without E2 treatment (P < 0.05). While the knockout of TNFα or IL6 significantly upregulated mRNA expressions of osteoblast-related genes (Runx2 and Col1a1) and downregulated osteoclast-related mRNA for TRAP, MMP9 and CTSK in vivo and in vitro, TNFα knockout appeared to have roles beyond IL6 knockout in upregulating Col1a1 mRNA expression and downregulating mRNA expressions of WNT-related genes (DKK1 and Sost) and TNF-related activation-induced genes (TRAF6). TNFα seemed to be more potentially invasive in inhibiting bone formation and enhancing TRAF6-mediated osteoclastogenesis than IL6, implying that the regulatory mechanisms of TNFα and IL6 in bone metabolism may be different.

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Frank Driessler and Paul A Baldock

On initial inspection, bone remodeling, the process whereby the skeleton adapts through time, appears to be relatively simple. Two cell types, the bone-forming osteoblasts and the bone-resorbing osteoclasts, interact to keep bone mass relatively stable throughout adult life. However, the complexity of the regulatory influences on these cells is continuing to expand our understanding of the intricacy of skeletal physiology and also the interactions between other organ systems and bone. One such example of the broadening of understanding in this field has occurred in the last decade with study of the central, neural regulation of bone mass. Initial studies of an adipose-derived hormone, leptin, helped define a direct, sympathetic pathway involving efferent neural signals from the hypothalamus to receptors on the osteoblast. Since the leptin-mediated pathway has been continuously modified to reveal a complex system involving neuromedin U, cocaine- and amphetamine-related transcript and serotonin interacting within the hypothalamus and brainstem to regulate both bone formation and resorption in cancellous bone, a number of other systems have also been identified. Neuropeptide Y, acting through hypothalamic Y2 receptors, is capable of skeleton-wide modulation of osteoblast activity, with important coordination between body weight and bone mass. Cannabinoids, acting through central cannabinoid receptor 1 and bone cell cannabinoid receptor 2 receptors, modulate osteoclast activity, thereby identifying pathways active on both aspects of the bone remodeling process. This review explores the key central pathways to bone and explores the complexity of the interactions being revealed by this emergent field of research.

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Shoshana Yakar, Haim Werner and Clifford J Rosen

The discovery of the growth hormone (GH)-mediated somatic factors (somatomedins), insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I and -II, has elicited an enormous interest primarily among endocrinologists who study growth and metabolism. The advancement of molecular endocrinology over the past four decades enables investigators to re-examine and refine the established somatomedin hypothesis. Specifically, gene deletions, transgene overexpression or more recently, cell-specific gene-ablations, have enabled investigators to study the effects of the Igf1 and Igf2 genes in temporal and spatial manners. The GH/IGF axis, acting in an endocrine and autocrine/paracrine fashion, is the major axis controlling skeletal growth. Studies in rodents have clearly shown that IGFs regulate bone length of the appendicular skeleton evidenced by changes in chondrocytes of the proliferative and hypertrophic zones of the growth plate. IGFs affect radial bone growth and regulate cortical and trabecular bone properties via their effects on osteoblast, osteocyte and osteoclast function. Interactions of the IGFs with sex steroid hormones and the parathyroid hormone demonstrate the significance and complexity of the IGF axis in the skeleton. Finally, IGFs have been implicated in skeletal aging. Decreases in serum IGFs during aging have been correlated with reductions in bone mineral density and increased fracture risk. This review highlights many of the most relevant studies in the IGF research landscape, focusing in particular on IGFs effects on the skeleton.

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Mara Riminucci, Pamela Gehron Robey, Isabella Saggio and Paolo Bianco

Activating mutations of the GNAS gene, which causes fibrous dysplasia of bone (FD), lead to remarkable changes in the properties of skeletal progenitors, and it is these changes that mediate the pathological effect of this gene on bone. Mutated skeletal stem cells lose the ability to differentiate into adipocytes, and to maintain in situ, and transfer heterotopically, the hematopoietic microenvironment, leading to abnormal bone marrow histology in FD. They overexpress molecular effectors of osteoclastogenesis, thus promoting inappropriate bone resorption leading to fragility of FD bone. They express the phosphate-regulating hormone FGF-23 at normal levels, whose excess in the serum of FD patients correlates with the mass of osteogenic cells within FD lesions, leading to osteomalacia and deformity of the FD bone, and revealing that bone is an endocrine organ regulating renal handling of phosphate. Mechanisms of allelic selection and stem cell selection occur in mutated skeletal stem cells and contribute to the inherent diversity and evolution over time in FD. The definition of the etiological role of GNAS mutations marks the watershed between many decades of descriptive observation and the definition of cellular and molecular mechanisms that would explain and hopefully allow for a cure for the disease. Placing stem cells at center stage has permitted substantial advances in one decade, and promises more for the one to come.

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Gill Holdsworth, Scott J Roberts and Hua Zhu Ke

The discovery that two rare autosomal recessive high bone mass conditions were caused by the loss of sclerostin expression prompted studies into its role in bone homeostasis. In this article, we aim to bring together the wealth of information relating to sclerostin in bone though discussion of rare human disorders in which sclerostin is reduced or absent, sclerostin manipulation via genetic approaches and treatment with antibodies that neutralise sclerostin in animal models and in human. Together, these findings demonstrate the importance of sclerostin as a regulator of bone homeostasis and provide valuable insights into its biological mechanism of action. We summarise the current state of knowledge in the field, including the current understanding of the direct effects of sclerostin on the canonical WNT signalling pathway and the actions of sclerostin as an inhibitor of bone formation. We review the effects of sclerostin, and its inhibition, on bone at the cellular and tissue level and discuss new findings that suggest that sclerostin may also regulate adipose tissue. Finally, we highlight areas in which future research is expected to yield additional insights into the biology of sclerostin.

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Rosa Chung and Cory J Xian

Injuries to the growth plate cartilage often lead to bony repair, resulting in bone growth defects such as limb length discrepancy and angulation deformity in children. Currently utilised corrective surgeries are highly invasive and limited in their effectiveness, and there are no known biological therapies to induce cartilage regeneration and prevent the undesirable bony repair. In the last 2 decades, studies have investigated the cellular and molecular events that lead to bony repair at the injured growth plate including the identification of the four phases of injury repair responses (inflammatory, fibrogenic, osteogenic and remodelling), the important role of inflammatory cytokine tumour necrosis factor alpha in regulating downstream repair responses, the role of chemotactic and mitogenic platelet-derived growth factor in the fibrogenic response, the involvement and roles of bone morphogenic protein and Wnt/B-catenin signalling pathways, as well as vascular endothelial growth factor-based angiogenesis during the osteogenic response. These new findings could potentially lead to identification of new targets for developing a future biological therapy. In addition, recent advances in cartilage tissue engineering highlight the promising potential for utilising multipotent mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) for inducing regeneration of injured growth plate cartilage. This review aims to summarise current understanding of the mechanisms for growth plate injury repair and discuss some progress, potential and challenges of MSC-based therapies to induce growth plate cartilage regeneration in combination with chemotactic and chondrogenic growth factors and supporting scaffolds.