Hypoxia is a major stimulator of osteoclast formation and bone resorption

J Cell Physiol. 2003 Jul;196(1):2-8. doi: 10.1002/jcp.10321.


Hypoxia is known to act as a general stimulator of cells derived from marrow precursors. We investigated the effect of oxygen tension on the formation and function of osteoclasts, the cells responsible for bore resorption, which are of promonocytic origin. Using 7- and 13-day cultures of mouse marrow cells on ivory discs, we found that reducing oxygen tension from the ambient atmospheric level of 20% by increasing the proportion of nitrogen caused progressive increases in the formation of multinucleated osteoclasts and resorption pits. Peak effects occurred in 2% oxygen, where stimulations of resorption up to 21-fold were measured. Significant stimulations of osteoclast formation and resorption were observed even in severely hypoxic cultures gassed with 0.2% oxygen. Short-term cultures of cells disaggregated from rat bones indicated that hypoxia did not alter the resorptive activity of mature osteoclasts, but reduced their survival or adherence. In 3-day organ cultures of mouse calvarial bones, exposure to 2% oxygen resulted in maximal, fivefold stimulation of osteoclast-mediated calcium release, an effect equivalent to that of prostaglandin E(2) (PGE(2)), a reference osteolytic agent. Hypoxia also caused a moderate acidosis in calvarial cultures, presumably as a result of increased anaerobic metabolism; this observation is significant because osteoclast activation is dependent on extracellular acidification. Our experiments reveal a previously-overlooked mechanism of considerable potential importance for the regulation of bone destruction. These findings may help explain the bone loss associated with a wide range of pathological states involving local or systemic hypoxia, and emphasize the importance of the vasculature in bone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Resorption / metabolism*
  • Cell Differentiation* / drug effects
  • Cell Hypoxia / physiology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Mice
  • Osteoclasts / cytology*
  • Osteoclasts / drug effects
  • Osteoclasts / metabolism*
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Oxygen / pharmacology
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Rats
  • Skull / cytology


  • Oxygen