Age-related bone loss and associated fracture risk are major problems in musculoskeletal health. Osteocytes have emerged as key regulators of bone mass and as a therapeutic target for preventing bone loss. As aging is associated with changes in the osteocyte lacunocanalicular system, we focused on the responsible cellular mechanisms in osteocytes. Bone phenotypic analysis was performed in young-(5mo) and aged-(22mo) C57BL/6 mice and changes in bone structure/geometry correlated with alterations in osteocyte parameters determined using novel multiplexed-3D-confocal imaging techniques. Age-related bone changes analogous to those in humans were observed, including increased cortical diameter, decreased cortical thickness, reduced trabecular BV/TV and cortical porosities. This was associated with a dramatic reduction in osteocyte dendrite number and cell density, particularly in females, where osteocyte dendricity decreased linearly from 5, 12, 18 to 22mo and correlated significantly with cortical bone parameters. Reduced dendricity preceded decreased osteocyte number, suggesting dendrite loss may trigger loss of viability. Age-related degeneration of osteocyte networks may impair bone anabolic responses to loading and gender differences in osteocyte cell body and lacunar fluid volumes we observed in aged mice may lead to gender-related differences in mechanosensitivity. Therapies to preserve osteocyte dendricity and viability may be beneficial for bone health in aging.
Type I collagen is the most abundant extracellular matrix protein in bone and other connective tissues and plays key roles in normal and pathological bone formation as well as in connective tissue disorders and fibrosis. Although much is known about the collagen biosynthetic pathway and its regulatory steps, the mechanisms by which it is assembled extracellularly are less clear. We have generated GFPtpz and mCherry-tagged collagen fusion constructs for live imaging of type I collagen assembly by replacing the α2(I)-procollagen N-terminal propeptide with GFPtpz or mCherry. These novel imaging probes were stably transfected into MLO-A5 osteoblast-like cells and fibronectin-null mouse embryonic fibroblasts (FN-null-MEFs) and used for imaging type I collagen assembly dynamics and its dependence on fibronectin. Both fusion proteins co-precipitated with α1(I)-collagen and remained intracellular without ascorbate but were assembled into α1(I) collagen-containing extracellular fibrils in the presence of ascorbate. Immunogold-EM confirmed their ultrastuctural localization in banded collagen fibrils. Live cell imaging in stably transfected MLO-A5 cells revealed the highly dynamic nature of collagen assembly and showed that during assembly the fibril networks are continually stretched and contracted due to the underlying cell motion. We also observed that cell-generated forces can physically reshape the collagen fibrils. Using co-cultures of mCherry- and GFPtpz-collagen expressing cells, we show that multiple cells contribute collagen to form collagen fiber bundles. Immuno-EM further showed that individual collagen fibrils can receive contributions of collagen from more than one cell. Live cell imaging in FN-null-MEFs expressing GFPtpz-collagen showed that collagen assembly was both dependent upon and dynamically integrated with fibronectin assembly. These GFP-collagen fusion constructs provide a powerful tool for imaging collagen in living cells and have revealed novel and fundamental insights into the dynamic mechanisms for the extracellular assembly of collagen. © 2018 American Society for Bone and Mineral Research.
Osteocytes, the most abundant cells in bone, were once thought to be inactive, but are now known to have multifunctional roles in bone, including in mechanotransduction, regulation of osteoblast and osteoclast function and phosphate homeostasis. Because osteocytes are embedded in a mineralized matrix and are challenging to study, there is a need for new tools and cell models to understand their biology. We have generated two clonal osteogenic cell lines, OmGFP66 and OmGFP10, by immortalization of primary bone cells from mice expressing a membrane-targeted GFP driven by the Dmp1-promoter. One of these clones, OmGFP66, has unique properties compared with previous osteogenic and osteocyte cell models and forms 3-dimensional mineralized bone-like structures, containing highly dendritic GFP-positive osteocytes, embedded in clearly defined lacunae. Confocal and electron microscopy showed that structurally and morphologically, these bone-like structures resemble bone in vivo, even mimicking the lacunocanalicular ultrastructure and 3D spacing of in vivo osteocytes. In osteogenic conditions, OmGFP66 cells express alkaline phosphatase (ALP), produce a mineralized type I collagen matrix, and constitutively express the early osteocyte marker, E11/gp38. With differentiation they express osteocyte markers, Dmp1, Phex, Mepe, Fgf23, and the mature osteocyte marker, Sost. They also express RankL, Opg, and Hif1α, and show expected osteocyte responses to PTH, including downregulation of Sost, Dmp1, and Opg and upregulation of RankL and E11/gp38. Live cell imaging revealed the dynamic process by which OmGFP66 bone-like structures form, the motile properties of embedding osteocytes and the integration of osteocyte differentiation with mineralization. The OmGFP10 clone showed an osteocyte gene expression profile similar to OmGFP66, but formed less organized bone nodule-like mineral, similar to other osteogenic cell models. Not only do these cell lines provide useful new tools for mechanistic and dynamic studies of osteocyte differentiation, function, and biomineralization, but OmGFP66 cells have the unique property of modeling osteocytes in their natural bone microenvironment.
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