The RANK/RANKL/OPG triad in cancer-induced bone diseases

Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2006 Dec;25(4):541-9. doi: 10.1007/s10555-006-9021-3.


The maintenance of skeletal integrity in a healthy individual requires a balanced regulation of the processes of bone formation, mediated by osteoblasts, and bone resorption, mediated by osteoclasts. This balanced process of bone remodeling becomes co-opted in the skeleton by tumor cells and this dramatically accelerates the process of remodeling and disrupts the normal equilibrium resulting in a spectrum of osteolytic to osteoblastic bone lesions. Certain tumor types, such as breast and prostate, frequently metastasize to the bone. It is now widely understood that the molecular triad--receptor activator of NF-kappaB ligand (RANKL), its receptor RANK, and the endogenous soluble RANKL inhibitor, osteoprotegerin (OPG)--play direct and essential roles in the formation, function, and survival of osteoclasts. Osteoclastic bone resorption contributes to the majority of skeletal sequelae, or skeletal-related events (SREs), in patients with bone metastases. In addition, osteoclastic bone resorption also contributes to the establishment of tumors in the skeleton. Therefore, blocking osteoclast activity and differentiation via RANKL inhibition may not only provide a beneficial treatment for skeletal complications of malignancy, but may also prevent bone metastases. In this review, we will first describe the operative role of osteoclasts and the RANK/RANKL/OPG triad in the pathophysiology of cancer-induced bone diseases, specifically solid tumor metastases to the bone. Secondly, we will describe a therapeutic approach that specifically targets the RANKL molecule.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Bone Neoplasms / pathology
  • Bone Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Bone Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Osteoclasts / cytology
  • Osteoclasts / metabolism
  • Osteoprotegerin / metabolism*
  • RANK Ligand / antagonists & inhibitors
  • RANK Ligand / metabolism*
  • Receptor Activator of Nuclear Factor-kappa B / metabolism*


  • Osteoprotegerin
  • RANK Ligand
  • Receptor Activator of Nuclear Factor-kappa B