The last decade has provided a virtual explosion of data on the molecular biology and function of osteocytes. Far from being the "passive placeholder in bone," this cell has been found to have numerous functions, such as acting as an orchestrator of bone remodeling through regulation of both osteoclast and osteoblast activity and also functioning as an endocrine cell. The osteocyte is a source of soluble factors not only to target cells on the bone surface but also to target distant organs, such as kidney, muscle, and other tissues. This cell plays a role in both phosphate metabolism and calcium availability and can remodel its perilacunar matrix. Osteocytes compose 90% to 95% of all bone cells in adult bone and are the longest lived bone cell, up to decades within their mineralized environment. As we age, these cells die, leaving behind empty lacunae that frequently micropetrose. In aged bone such as osteonecrotic bone, empty lacunae are associated with reduced remodeling. Inflammatory factors such as tumor necrosis factor and glucocorticoids used to treat inflammatory disease induce osteocyte cell death, but by different mechanisms with potentially different outcomes. Therefore, healthy, viable osteocytes are necessary for proper functionality of bone and other organs.
Copyright © 2011 American Society for Bone and Mineral Research.