Osteoclast fusion and fission

Calcif Tissue Int. 2012 Jun;90(6):515-22. doi: 10.1007/s00223-012-9600-y. Epub 2012 Apr 25.


Osteoclasts are specialized multinucleated cells with the unique capacity to resorb bone. Despite insight into the various steps of the interaction of osteoclast precursors leading to osteoclast formation, surprisingly little is known about what happens with the multinucleated cell itself after it has been formed. Is fusion limited to the short period of its formation, or do osteoclasts have the capacity to change their size and number of nuclei at a later stage? To visualize these processes we analyzed osteoclasts generated in vitro with M-CSF and RANKL from mouse bone marrow and native osteoclasts isolated from rabbit bones by live cell microscopy. We show that osteoclasts fuse not only with mononuclear cells but also with other multinucleated cells. The most intriguing finding was fission of the osteoclasts. Osteoclasts were shown to have the capacity to generate functional multinucleated compartments as well as compartments that contained apoptotic nuclei. These compartments were separated from each other, each giving rise to a novel functional osteoclast or to a compartment that contained apoptotic nuclei. Our findings suggest that osteoclasts have the capacity to regulate their own population in number and function, probably to adapt quickly to changing situations.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Marrow Cells / cytology
  • Bone Marrow Cells / metabolism
  • Bone Marrow Cells / ultrastructure
  • Bone Resorption / pathology
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Osteoclasts / cytology
  • Osteoclasts / metabolism*
  • RANK Ligand
  • Rabbits


  • RANK Ligand