Wnt and steroid pathways control glutamate signalling by regulating glutamine synthetase activity in osteoblastic cells

Bone. 2008 Sep;43(3):483-93. doi: 10.1016/j.bone.2008.04.016. Epub 2008 May 7.


Glutamate signalling has recently been found functional also outside the central nervous system, especially in bone. Glutamate is converted to glutamine by glutamine synthetase (GS), which is therefore able to regulate intracellular concentrations of glutamate. We previously characterized the induction of GS expression by glucocorticoids (GCs) in human osteoblast-like cells. Besides this observation, the mechanisms controlling GS in bone are unknown. Therefore, the aim of our present study was to investigate further the regulation of GS in osteoblastic cells. We observed that vitamin D inhibited basal and, even more efficiently, GC-stimulated GS activity by affecting both the mRNA and protein levels of the enzyme in human MG-63 osteoblast-like cells. In osteoblasts derived from rat bone marrow stem cells (rMSCs), GS activity was induced accordingly by the osteogenic culture conditions including GCs. Also in these primary cells, vitamin D clearly inhibited GS activity. In addition, the canonical Wnt signalling pathway was characterized as a negative regulator of GS activity. All these changes in GS activity were reflected on the intracellular glutamate concentration. Our results provide novel evidence that GS activity and expression are regulated by several different signalling pathways in osteoblastic cells. Therefore, GS is a strategic enzyme in controlling glutamate concentration in bone environment: GCs decreased the amount of this signalling molecule while vitamin D and Wnt signalling pathway increased it. Interestingly, GS activity and expression declined rapidly when the rMSC derived osteoblasts began to mineralize. Due to its downregulation during osteoblast mineralization, GS could be held as a marker for osteoblast development. Further supporting this, GS activity was stimulated and intracellular glutamate concentration maintained by the N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) type glutamate receptor antagonist MK801, which inhibited osteogenic differentiation of the rMSCs. GS, a novel target for both steroidal and Wnt pathways in bone, might be a central player in the regulation of osteoblastogenesis and/or intercellular signal transmission. Therefore, the proper understanding of the interplay of these three signalling cascades, i.e., steroidal, Wnt, and glutamate signalling, gives vital information on how bone cells communicate together aiming to keep bone healthy.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Marrow Cells / cytology
  • Glutamate-Ammonia Ligase / metabolism*
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Osteoblasts / cytology*
  • Osteoblasts / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Wnt Proteins / metabolism*
  • Wnt3 Protein


  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Wnt Proteins
  • Wnt3 Protein
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Glutamate-Ammonia Ligase