Background: Bowing and/or pseudarthrosis of the tibia is a known severe complication of neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1). Mice with conditionally inactivated neurofibromin (Nf1) in the developing limbs and cranium (Nf1Prx1) show bowing of the tibia caused by decreased bone mineralisation and increased bone vascularisation. However, in contrast to NF1 patients, spontaneous fractures do not occur in Nf1Prx1 mice probably due to the relatively low mechanical load. We studied bone healing in a cortical bone injury model in Nf1Prx1 mice as a model for NF1-associated bone disease. Taking advantage of this experimental model we explore effects of systemically applied lovastatin, a cholesterol-lowering drug, on the Nf1 deficient bone repair.
Methods: Cortical injury was induced bilaterally in the tuberositas tibiae in Nf1Prx1 mutant mice and littermate controls according to a method described previously. Paraffin as well as methacrylate sections were analysed from each animal. We divided 24 sex-matched mutant mice into a lovastatin-treated and an untreated group. The lovastatin-treated mice received 0.15 mg activated lovastatin by daily gavage. The bone repair process was analysed at three consecutive time points post injury, using histological methods, micro computed tomography measurements and in situ hybridisation. At each experimental time point, three lovastatin-treated mutant mice, three untreated mutant mice and three untreated control mice were analysed. The animal group humanely killed on day 14 post injury was expanded to six treated and six untreated mutant mice as well as six control mice.
Results: Bone injury repair is a complex process, which requires the concerted effort of numerous cell types. It is initiated by an inflammatory response, which stimulates fibroblasts from the surrounding connective tissue to proliferate and fill in the injury site with a provisional extracellular matrix. In parallel, mesenchymal progenitor cells from the periost are recruited into the injury site to become osteoblasts. In Nf1Prx1 mice bone repair is delayed and characterised by the excessive formation and the persistence of fibro-cartilaginous tissue and impaired extracellular matrix mineralisation. Correspondingly, expression of Runx2 is downregulated. High-dose systemic lovastatin treatment restores Runx2 expression and accelerates new bone formation, thus improving cortical bone repair in Nf1Prx1 tibia. The bone anabolic effects correlate with a reduction of the mitogen activated protein kinase pathway hyper-activation in Nf1-deficient cells.
Conclusion: Our data suggest the potential usefulness of lovastatin, a drug approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1987 for the treatment of hypercholesteraemia, in the treatment of Nf1-related fracture healing abnormalities. The experimental model presented here constitutes a valuable tool for the pre-clinical stage testing of candidate drugs, targeting Nf1-associated bone dysplasia.