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Bonekey Rep. 2013 May 1;2:343. doi: 10.1038/bonekey.2013.77.

The enigmas of bone without osteocytes.

Author information

  • 1Koret School of Veterinary Medicine, The Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem , Israel.
  • 2Department of Biomaterials, Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces , Potsdam, Germany.

Erratum in

  • Bonekey Rep. 2013;2:434.


One of the hallmarks of tetrapod bone is the presence of numerous cells (osteocytes) within the matrix. Osteocytes are vital components of tetrapod bone, orchestrating the processes of bone building, reshaping and repairing (modeling and remodeling), and probably also participating in calcium-phosphorus homeostasis via both the local process of osteocytic osteolysis, and systemic effect on the kidneys. Given these critical roles of osteocytes, it is thought-provoking that the entire skeleton of many fishes consists of bone material that does not contain osteocytes. This raises the intriguing question of how the skeleton of these animals accomplishes the various essential functions attributed to osteocytes in other vertebrates, and raises the possibility that in acellular bone some of these functions are either accomplished by non-osteocytic routes or not necessary at all. In this review, we outline evidence for and against the fact that primary functions normally ascribed to osteocytes, such as mechanosensation, regulation of osteoblast/clast activity and mineral metabolism, also occur in fish bone devoid of these cells, and therefore must be carried out through alternative and perhaps ancient pathways. To enable meaningful comparisons with mammalian bone, we suggest thorough, phylogenetic examinations of regulatory pathways, studies of structure and mechanical properties and surveys of the presence/absence of bone cells in fishes. Insights gained into the micro-/nanolevel structure and architecture of fish bone, its mechanical properties and its physiology in health and disease will contribute to the discipline of fish skeletal biology, but may also help answer questions of basic bone biology.

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