Introduction: Osteocyte apoptosis co-localizes with sites of osteoclastic bone resorption in vivo, but to date, no causal molecular or signaling link has been identified between these two processes.
Materials and methods: Osteocyte apoptotic bodies (OABs) derived from the MLO-Y4 osteocyte-like cell line and primary murine osteocytes and apoptotic bodies (ABs) derived from primary murine osteoblasts were introduced onto the right parietal bone of murine calvariae, and osteoclastic bone resorption was examined 5 days after treatment. In addition, the ability of primary murine and cell line-derived OABs to support osteoclastogenesis was examined in vitro in co-culture with murine bone marrow hematopoietic progenitors in the absence of RANKL or macrophage-colony stimulating factor.
Results: For the first time, we show that OABs are capable of initiating de novo osteoclastic bone resorption on quiescent bone surfaces in vivo. Furthermore, the addition of OABs to mononuclear osteoclast precursors (OPs) in vitro resulted in the maintenance of OP cell numbers and an increase in the proportion and activity of TRACP(+) cells. In contrast, application of ABs from osteoblasts showed no osteoclastogenic activity either in vivo or in vitro. The osteoclastogenic capacity of OABs was shown to be independent of the known osteoclastogenic factor RANKL but dependent on the induction of TNF-alpha production by OP.
Conclusions: These data point to a mechanism by which dying osteocytes might target bone destruction through the distribution of OAB-associated signals and give further physiological meaning to the apoptotic process in bone.