Apoptosis of osteocytes and osteoblasts precedes bone resorption and bone loss with reduced mechanical stimulation, and receptor activator of NF-κB ligand (RANKL) expression is increased with unloading in mice. Because osteocytes are major RANKL producers, we hypothesized that apoptotic osteocytes signal to neighboring osteocytes to increase RANKL expression, which, in turn, increases osteoclastogenesis and bone resorption. The traditional bisphosphonate (BP) alendronate (Aln) or IG9402, a BP analog that does not inhibit resorption, prevented the increase in osteocyte apoptosis and osteocytic RANKL expression. The BPs also inhibited osteoblast apoptosis but did not prevent the increase in osteoblastic RANKL. Unloaded mice exhibited high serum levels of the bone resorption marker C-telopeptide fragments of type I collagen (CTX), elevated osteoclastogenesis, and increased osteoclasts in bone. Aln, but not IG9402, prevented all of these effects. In addition, Aln prevented the reduction in spinal and femoral bone mineral density, spinal bone volume/tissue volume, trabecular thickness, mechanical strength, and material strength induced by unloading. Although IG9402 did not prevent the loss of bone mass, it partially prevented the loss of strength, suggesting a contribution of osteocyte viability to strength independent of bone mass. These results demonstrate that osteocyte apoptosis leads to increased osteocytic RANKL. However, blockade of these events is not sufficient to restrain osteoclast formation, inhibit resorption, or stop bone loss induced by skeletal unloading.
Keywords: RANKL; apoptosis; bone; immobilization; osteoblast; osteoclast; osteocyte; resorption.
© 2015 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.