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J Bone Miner Res. 2006 Aug;21(8):1297-306.

Osteocytes use estrogen receptor alpha to respond to strain but their ERalpha content is regulated by estrogen.

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  • 1Department of Basic Sciences, The Royal Veterinary College, University of London, London, United Kingdom. gzaman@rvc.ac.uk


The role of mechanical strain and estrogen status in regulating ERalpha levels in bone cells was studied in female rats. OVX is associated with decreased ERalpha protein expression/osteocyte, whereas habitual strain and artificial loading has only a small but positive effect, except on the ulna's medial surface, where artificial loading stimulates reversal of resorption to formation.


Osteoporosis is the most widespread failure of bones' ability to match their architectural strength to their habitual load bearing. In men and women, the severity of bone loss is associated with bioavailability of estrogen. This association could result from the estrogen receptor (ER) involvement in bone cells' adaptive response to loading.


In vivo semiquantitative analysis of the amount of ERalpha protein per osteocyte was performed in immuno-cytochemically stained sections from control and loaded rat ulna, as well as tibias of ovariectomy (OVX) and sham-operated female rats. In vitro, the effect of exogenous estrogen (10(-8) M) and mechanical strain (3400 microepsilon, 1 Hz, 600 cycles) on the expression of ERalpha mRNA levels was assessed in ROS 17/2.8 cells in monolayers using real-time PCR and ER promoter activity. ERalpha translocation in response to exogenous estrogen and mechanical strain was assessed in both ROS 17/2.8 and MLO-Y4 cells.


More than 90 percent of tibial osteocytes express ERalpha, the level/osteocyte being higher in cortical than cancellous bone. OVX is associated with decreased ERalpha protein expression/osteocyte, whereas in the ulna habitual strain and that caused by artificial loading had only a small but positive effect, except on the medial surface, where loading stimulates reversal of resorption to formation. In unstimulated osteocytes and osteoblasts in situ, and osteocyte-like and osteoblast-like cells in vitro, ERalpha is predominantly cytoplasmic. In vitro, both strain and estrogen stimulate transient ERalpha translocation to the nucleus and transient changes in ERalpha mRNA. Strain but not estrogen also induces discrete membrane localization of ERalpha.


Bone cells' responses to both strain and estrogen involve ERalpha, but only estrogen regulates its cellular concentration. This is consistent with the hypothesis that bone loss associated with estrogen deficiency is a consequence of reduction in ERalpha number/activity associated with lower estrogen concentration reducing the effectiveness of bone cells' anabolic response to strain.

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