Fluorescence activated cell sorting reveals heterogeneous and cell non-autonomous osteoprogenitor differentiation in fetal rat calvaria cell populations

J Cell Biochem. 2003 Sep 1;90(1):109-20. doi: 10.1002/jcb.10596.


Identification of osteoblast progenitors, with defined developmental capacity, would facilitate studies on a variety of parameters of bone development. We used expression of alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and the parathyroid hormone/parathyroid hormone-related protein receptor (PTH1R) as osteoblast markers in dual-color fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS) to fractionate rat calvaria (RC) cells into ALP(-)PTH1R(-), ALP(+)PTH1R(-), ALP(-)PTH1R(+), and ALP(+)PTH1R(+) populations. These fractionated populations were seeded clonally (n = 96) or over a range of cell densities ( approximately 150-8,500 cell/cm(2); n = 3). Our results indicate that colony forming unit-osteoblast (CFU-O)/bone nodule-forming cells are found in all fractions, but the frequency of CFU-O and total mineralized area is different across fractions. Analysis of these differences suggests that ALP(-)PTH1R(-), ALP(-)PTH1R(+), ALP(+)PTH1R(-), and ALP(+)PTH1R(+) cell populations are separated in order of increasing bone formation capacity. Dexamethasone (dex) differentially increased the CFU-O number in the four fractions, with the largest stimulation in the ALP(-) cell populations. However, there was no significant difference in the number or size distribution of CFU-F (fibroblast) colonies that formed in vehicle versus dex. Finally, both cell autonomous and cell non-autonomous (i.e., inhibitory/stimulatory effects of cell neighbors) differentiation of osteoprogenitors was seen. Only the ALP(-)PTH1R(-) population was capable of forming nodules at the clonal level, at approximately 3- or 12-times the predicted frequency of unfractionated populations in dex or vehicle, respectively. These data suggest that osteoprogenitors can be significantly enriched by fractionation of RC populations, that assay conditions modify the osteoprogenitor frequencies observed and that fractionation of osteogenic populations is useful for interrogation of their developmental status and osteogenic capacity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkaline Phosphatase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Bone Development / physiology
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • Cell Separation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Fetus / anatomy & histology*
  • Fetus / physiology
  • Flow Cytometry*
  • Humans
  • Osteoblasts / cytology
  • Osteoblasts / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Parathyroid Hormone / metabolism
  • Regression Analysis
  • Skull / cytology*
  • Skull / embryology
  • Skull / metabolism
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Stem Cells / physiology*


  • Biomarkers
  • Receptors, Parathyroid Hormone
  • Alkaline Phosphatase