Impact of the Autonomic Nervous System on the Skeleton

Physiol Rev. 2018 Jul 1;98(3):1083-1112. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00014.2017.


It is from the discovery of leptin and the central nervous system as a regulator of bone remodeling that the presence of autonomic nerves within the skeleton transitioned from a mere histological observation to the mechanism whereby neurons of the central nervous system communicate with cells of the bone microenvironment and regulate bone homeostasis. This shift in paradigm sparked new preclinical and clinical investigations aimed at defining the contribution of sympathetic, parasympathetic, and sensory nerves to the process of bone development, bone mass accrual, bone remodeling, and cancer metastasis. The aim of this article is to review the data that led to the current understanding of the interactions between the autonomic and skeletal systems and to present a critical appraisal of the literature, bringing forth a schema that can put into physiological and clinical context the main genetic and pharmacological observations pointing to the existence of an autonomic control of skeletal homeostasis. The different types of nerves found in the skeleton, their functional interactions with bone cells, their impact on bone development, bone mass accrual and remodeling, and the possible clinical or pathophysiological relevance of these findings are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Bone Development
  • Bone Diseases / physiopathology
  • Bone Remodeling*
  • Bone and Bones / embryology
  • Bone and Bones / innervation*
  • Bone and Bones / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Weight-Bearing