Wnt proteins that signal via the canonical Wnt/β-catenin pathway directly regulate osteoblast differentiation. In contrast, most studies of Wnt-related effects on osteoclasts involve indirect changes. While investigating bone mineral density loss in the setting of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and its treatment with the protease inhibitor ritonavir (RTV), we observed that RTV decreased nuclear localization of β-catenin, critical to canonical Wnt signaling, in primary human and murine osteoclast precursors. This occurred in parallel with upregulation of Wnt5a and Wnt5b transcripts. These Wnts typically stimulate noncanonical Wnt signaling, and this can antagonize the canonical Wnt pathway in many cell types, dependent upon Wnt receptor usage. We now document RTV-mediated upregulation of Wnt5a/b protein in osteoclast precursors. Recombinant Wnt5b and retrovirus-mediated expression of Wnt5a enhanced osteoclast differentiation from human and murine monocytic precursors, processes facilitated by RTV. In contrast, canonical Wnt signaling mediated by Wnt3a suppressed osteoclastogenesis. Both RTV and Wnt5b inhibited canonical, β-catenin/T cell factor-based Wnt reporter activation in osteoclast precursors. RTV- and Wnt5-induced osteoclast differentiation were dependent upon the receptor-like tyrosine kinase Ryk, suggesting that Ryk may act as a Wnt5a/b receptor in this context. This is the first demonstration of a direct role for Wnt signaling pathways and Ryk in regulation of osteoclast differentiation, and its modulation by a clinically important drug, ritonavir. These studies also reveal a potential role for noncanonical Wnt5a/b signaling in acceleration of bone mineral density loss in HIV-infected individuals, and illuminate a potential means of influencing such processes in disease states that involve enhanced osteoclast activity.
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