Homocysteine alters the osteoprotegerin/RANKL system in the osteoblast to promote bone loss: pivotal role of the redox regulator forkhead O1

Free Radic Biol Med. 2013 Aug:61:72-84. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2013.03.004. Epub 2013 Mar 15.


In this study we determined the molecular mechanisms of how homocysteine differentially affects receptor activator of nuclear factor-κB ligand (RANKL) and osteoprotegerin (OPG) synthesis in the bone. The results showed that oxidative stress induced by homocysteine deranges insulin-sensitive FOXO1 and MAP kinase signaling cascades to decrease OPG and increase RANKL synthesis in osteoblast cultures. We observed that downregulation of insulin/FOXO1 and p38 MAP kinase signaling mechanisms due to phosphorylation of protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) was the key event that inhibited OPG synthesis in homocysteine-treated osteoblast cultures. siRNA knockdown experiments confirmed that FOXO1 is integral to OPG and p38 synthesis. Conversely homocysteine increased RANKL synthesis in osteoblasts through c-Jun/JNK MAP kinase signaling mechanisms independent of FOXO1. In the rat bone milieu, high-methionine diet-induced hyperhomocysteinemia lowered FOXO1 and OPG expression and increased synthesis of proresorptive and inflammatory cytokines such as RANKL, M-CSF, IL-1α, IL-1β, G-CSF, GM-CSF, MIP-1α, IFN-γ, IL-17, and TNF-α. Such pathophysiological conditions were exacerbated by ovariectomy. Lowering the serum homocysteine level by a simultaneous supplementation with N-acetylcysteine improved OPG and FOXO1 expression and partially antagonized RANKL and proresorptive cytokine synthesis in the bone milieu. These results emphasize that hyperhomocysteinemia alters the redox regulatory mechanism in the osteoblast by activating PP2A and deranging FOXO1 and MAPK signaling cascades, eventually shifting the OPG:RANKL ratio toward increased osteoclast activity and decreased bone quality.

Keywords: Forkhead box; Free radicals; Osteoprotegerin; Protein phosphatase 2A; Receptor activator of nuclear factor-κB ligand; c-Jun MAP kinase; p38.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine
  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Female
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / physiology*
  • Homocysteine / pharmacology*
  • Hyperhomocysteinemia / metabolism
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / physiology*
  • Osteoblasts / drug effects
  • Osteoblasts / metabolism*
  • Osteoporosis / etiology*
  • Osteoprotegerin / analysis
  • Osteoprotegerin / physiology*
  • Protein Phosphatase 2 / metabolism
  • RANK Ligand / analysis
  • RANK Ligand / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / physiology


  • Forkhead Transcription Factors
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Osteoprotegerin
  • RANK Ligand
  • Homocysteine
  • Foxo1 protein, rat
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Protein Phosphatase 2
  • Acetylcysteine

Supplementary concepts

  • Homocysteinemia