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Bone. 1998 Dec;23(6):499-509.

Study of immunoelectron microscopic localization of cathepsin K in osteoclasts and other bone cells in the mouse femur.

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  • 1Department of Oral Anatomy I, Faculty of Dentistry, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan.


The localization of cathepsin K protein in mouse osteoclasts was examined by immunolight and immunoelectron microscopy using the avidin-biotin-peroxidase complex method with anti-cathepsin K (mouse) antibody. With light microscopy, a strong immunoreaction for cathepsin K was found extracellularly along the bone and cartilage resorption lacunae and detected intracellularly in vesicles, granules, and vacuoles throughout the cytoplasm of multinuclear osteoclasts and chondroclasts attached to the surface of the bone or cartilage. Mononuclear cells, probably preosteoclasts, some distance from the bone also contained a few cathepsin K-positive vesicles and granules. Cathepsin K was sometimes found in the cisternal spaces of the rough endoplasmic reticulum and vesicles of the Golgi apparatus with electron microscopy of the basolateral region of the osteoclasts. Cathepsin K-positive vesicles and granules as lysosomal compartments were present in various stages of fusion with vacuoles as endosomal compartments that contained fragmented cathepsin K-negative fibril-like structures. Some of the vacuoles (endolysosomes), which seemed to be formed by this process of fusion, contained cathepsin K-positive vesicles and fibril-like structures that did not show the regular cross striation of type I collagen fibrils. In the apical region of the osteoclasts, cathepsin K-positive vesicles and pits had already fused with or were in the process of fusing with the ampullar extracellular spaces. There were large deposits of cathepsin K on fragmented fibril-like structures without regular cross striation in the extracellular spaces, as well as on and between the cytoplasmic processes of the ruffled border. There were also extensive deposits of cathepsin K on the type I collagen fibrils with cross striation in the bone resorption lacunae. Osteoblasts and osteocytes were negative for cathepsin K. In the immunocytochemical controls, no immunoreaction was found in the osteoclasts or preosteoclasts, or on the collagen fibrils in the resorption lacunae. The results indicate that cathepsin K is produced in mature osteoclasts attached to the bone and secreted into the bone resorption lacunae. The findings suggest that cathepsin K participates in the extracellular degradation of collagen fibrils in the resorption lacunae and in the subsequent degradation of the fragmented fibrils in the endolysosomes. It is also suggested that cathepsin K degrades the organic cartilage matrix.

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