Background: Osteoblasts are bone forming cells that play an essential role in osteogenesis. The elucidation of the mechanisms that control osteoblast number is of major interest for the treatment of skeletal disorders characterized by abnormal bone formation. Canonical Wnt signalling plays an important role in the control of osteoblast proliferation, differentiation and survival. Recent studies indicate that the cell-cell adhesion molecule N-cadherin interacts with the Wnt co-receptors LRP5/6 to regulate osteoblast differentiation and bone accrual. The role of N-cadherin in the control of osteoblast proliferation and survival remains unknown.
Methods and principal findings: Using murine MC3T3-E1 osteoblastic cells and N-cadherin transgenic mice, we demonstrate that N-cadherin overexpression inhibits cell proliferation in vitro and in vivo. The negative effect of N-cadherin on cell proliferation results from decreased Wnt, ERK and PI3K/Akt signalling and is restored by N-cadherin neutralizing antibody that antagonizes N-cadherin-LRP5 interaction. Inhibition of Wnt signalling using DKK1 or Sfrp1 abolishes the ability of N-cadherin blockade to restore ERK and PI3K signalling and cell proliferation, indicating that the altered cell growth in N-cadherin overexpressing cells is in part secondary to alterations in Wnt signalling. Consistently, we found that N-cadherin overexpression inhibits the expression of Wnt3a ligand and its downstream targets c-myc and cyclin D1, an effect that is partially reversed by N-cadherin blockade. We also show that N-cadherin overexpression decreases osteoblast survival in vitro and in vivo. This negative effect on cell survival results from inhibition of PI3K/Akt signalling and increased Bax/Bcl-2, a mechanism that is rescued by Wnt3a.
Conclusion: The data show that N-cadherin negatively controls osteoblast proliferation and survival via inhibition of autocrine/paracrine Wnt3a ligand expression and attenuation of Wnt, ERK and PI3K/Akt signalling, which provides novel mechanisms by which N-cadherin regulates osteoblast number.