Regulation of the differentiation and function of osteoclasts

J Pathol. 2000 Sep;192(1):4-13. doi: 10.1002/1096-9896(2000)9999:9999<::AID-PATH645>3.0.CO;2-Q.


The osteoclast is the cell that resorbs bone. It has been known for many years that its formation and function are regulated by cells of the osteoblastic lineage. Recently the molecular basis for this regulation was identified; osteoblastic cells induce osteoclastic differentiation and resorptive activity through expression of tumour necrosis factor (TNF) activation-induced cytokine (TRANCE) (also known as RANKL, ODF, OPGL, and TNFSF11), a novel membrane-inserted member of the TNF superfamily. Osteoclastic regulation is assisted through secretion of an inhibitor, osteoprotegerin (OPG) (OCIF, TNFRSF11B), a soluble (decoy) receptor for TRANCE. Osteoclast formation and survival also depend on and are substantially enhanced by transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta), which is abundant in bone matrix. Surprisingly, not only TRANCE but also TNF-alpha can induce osteoclast formation in vitro from bone marrow-derived mononuclear phagocytes, especially in the presence of TGF-beta. Whether or not TNF-alpha does the same in vivo, its ability to generate osteoclasts in vitro has significant implications regarding the nature of osteoclasts and their relationship to other mononuclear phagocytes, and a possible wider role for TRANCE in macrophage pathobiology. A hypothesis is presented in which the osteoclast is a mononuclear phagocyte directed towards a debriding function by TGF-beta, activated for this function by TRANCE, and induced to become specifically osteoclastic by the characteristics of the substrate or signals from bone cells that betoken such characteristics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bone Resorption / pathology
  • Carrier Proteins / physiology
  • Cell Communication / physiology
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / physiology
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / physiology
  • Osteoclasts / cytology
  • Osteoclasts / physiology*
  • RANK Ligand
  • Receptor Activator of Nuclear Factor-kappa B


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • RANK Ligand
  • Receptor Activator of Nuclear Factor-kappa B
  • TNFRSF11A protein, human
  • TNFSF11 protein, human