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FASEB J. 1999 Jul;13(10):1219-30.

Functional heterogeneity of osteoclasts: matrix metalloproteinases participate in osteoclastic resorption of calvarial bone but not in resorption of long bone.

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  • 1Department of Periodontology, Academic Centre for Dentistry, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Data in the literature suggest that site-specific differences exist in the skeleton with respect to digestion of bone by osteoclasts. Therefore, we investigated whether bone resorption by calvarial osteoclasts (intramembranous bone) differs from resorption by long bone osteoclasts (endochondral bone). The involvement of two major classes of proteolytic enzymes, the cysteine proteinases (CPs) and matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), was studied by analyzing the effects of selective low molecular weight inhibitors of these enzymes on bone resorption. Mouse tissue explants (calvariae and long bones) as well as rabbit osteoclasts, which had been isolated from both skeletal sites and subsequently seeded on bone slices, were cultured in the presence of inhibitors and resorption was analyzed. The activity of the CP cathepsins B and K and of MMPs was determined biochemically (CPs and MMPs) and enzyme histochemically (CPs) in explants and isolated osteoclasts. We show that osteoclastic resorption of calvarial bone depends on activity of both CPs and MMPs, whereas long bone resorption depends on CPs, but not on the activity of MMPs. Furthermore, significantly higher levels of cathepsin B and cathepsin K activities were expressed by long bone osteoclasts than by calvarial osteoclasts. Resorption of slices of bovine skull or cortical bone by osteoclasts isolated from long bones was not affected by MMP inhibitors, whereas resorption by calvarial osteoclasts was inhibited. Inhibition of CP activity affected the resorption by the two populations of osteoclasts in a similar way. We conclude that this is the first report to show that significant differences exist between osteoclasts of calvariae and long bones with respect to their bone resorbing activities. Resorption by calvarial osteoclasts depends on the activity of CPs and MMPs, whereas resorption by long bone osteoclasts depends primarily on the activity of CPs. We hypothesize that functionally different subpopulations of osteoclasts, such as those described here, originate from different sets of progenitors.

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