Lactoferrin and bone; structure-activity relationships

Biochem Cell Biol. 2006 Jun;84(3):297-302. doi: 10.1139/o06-057.


The maintenance of the mechanical integrity of the skeleton depends on bone remodeling, the well-coordinated balance between bone formation by osteoblasts and bone resorption by osteoclasts. The coupled action of osteoblasts and osteoclasts is regulated by the action of many local and circulating hormones and factors as well as central regulation by a neurological mechanism. We have previously shown that lactoferrin can promote bone growth. At physiological concentrations, lactoferrin potently stimulates the proliferation and differentiation of primary osteoblasts and acts as a survival factor. Lactoferrin also affects osteoclasts, potently inhibiting their formation. In vivo, local injection of lactoferrin results in substantial increases in bone formation and bone area. In a critical bone-defect model in vivo, lactoferrin was also seen to promote bone growth. The mitogenic effect of lactoferrin in osteoblast-like cells is mediated mainly through low-density lipoprotein-receptor protein-1 (LRP1), a member of the low-density lipoprotein-receptor-related proteins that are primarily known as endocytic receptors; however, LRP1 is not necessary for the anti-apoptotic actions of lactoferrin. Lactoferrin also induces the activation of p42/44 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signalling and the PI3-kinase-dependent phosphorylation of Akt in osteoblasts. In this study, we examined other properties of lactoferrin and the way they affect osteogenic activity. The degree of glycosylation, iron-binding, and the structure-activity relationships indicate that lactoferrin maintains osteogenic activity in deglycosylated, holo, and apo forms, and in with various small fragments of the molecule. These data suggest that lactoferrin signals through more than 1 membrane-bound receptor to produce its anabolic skeletal effects, and that it signals through diverse pathways. We conclude that lactoferrin might have a physiological role in bone growth and healing and a potential therapeutic role as an anabolic factor in osteoporosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism*
  • Cattle
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Glycosylation
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Lactoferrin / chemistry*
  • Lactoferrin / metabolism
  • Lactoferrin / pharmacology*
  • Mice
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Osteoblasts / drug effects
  • Rats
  • Recombinant Proteins / pharmacology
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Iron
  • Lactoferrin