MHC class II transactivator is an in vivo regulator of osteoclast differentiation and bone homeostasis co-opted from adaptive immunity

J Bone Miner Res. 2014 Feb;29(2):290-303. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.2090.


The molecular networks controlling bone homeostasis are not fully understood. The common evolution of bone and adaptive immunity encourages the investigation of shared regulatory circuits. MHC Class II Transactivator (CIITA) is a master transcriptional co-activator believed to be exclusively dedicated for antigen presentation. CIITA is expressed in osteoclast precursors, and its expression is accentuated in osteoporotic mice. We thus asked whether CIITA plays a role in bone biology. To this aim, we fully characterized the bone phenotype of two mouse models of CIITA overexpression, respectively systemic and restricted to the monocyte-osteoclast lineage. Both CIITA-overexpressing mouse models revealed severe spontaneous osteoporosis, as assessed by micro-computed tomography and histomorphometry, associated with increased osteoclast numbers and enhanced in vivo bone resorption, whereas osteoblast numbers and in vivo bone-forming activity were unaffected. To understand the underlying cellular and molecular bases, we investigated ex vivo the differentiation of mutant bone marrow monocytes into osteoclasts and immune effectors, as well as osteoclastogenic signaling pathways. CIITA-overexpressing monocytes differentiated normally into effector macrophages or dendritic cells but showed enhanced osteoclastogenesis, whereas CIITA ablation suppressed osteoclast differentiation. Increased c-fms and receptor activator of NF-κB (RANK) signaling underlay enhanced osteoclast differentiation from CIITA-overexpressing precursors. Moreover, by extending selected phenotypic and cellular analyses to additional genetic mouse models, namely MHC Class II deficient mice and a transgenic mouse line lacking a specific CIITA promoter and re-expressing CIITA in the thymus, we excluded MHC Class II expression and T cells from contributing to the observed skeletal phenotype. Altogether, our study provides compelling genetic evidence that CIITA, the molecular switch of antigen presentation, plays a novel, unexpected function in skeletal homeostasis, independent of MHC Class II expression and T cells, by exerting a selective and intrinsic control of osteoclast differentiation and bone resorption in vivo.


Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigen Presentation / physiology*
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Cell Differentiation / immunology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation / immunology*
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II / biosynthesis
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II / genetics
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Nuclear Proteins / genetics
  • Nuclear Proteins / immunology*
  • Nuclear Proteins / metabolism
  • Osteoclasts / cytology
  • Osteoclasts / immunology*
  • Osteoclasts / metabolism
  • Receptor, Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / genetics
  • Receptor, Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / immunology*
  • Receptor, Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Trans-Activators / genetics
  • Trans-Activators / immunology*
  • Trans-Activators / metabolism


  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II
  • MHC class II transactivator protein
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Trans-Activators
  • Receptor, Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor