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Eur Cell Mater. 2012 Sep 24;24:278-91.

Mechanical loading and how it affects bone cells: the role of the osteocyte cytoskeleton in maintaining our skeleton.

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  • 1Department of Oral Cell Biology, ACTA-University of Amsterdam and VU University Amsterdam, Research Institute MOVE, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Lack of physical activity causes bone loss and fractures not only in elderly people, but also in bedridden patients or otherwise inactive youth. This is fast becoming one of the most serious healthcare problems in the world. Osteocytes, cells buried within our bones, stimulate bone formation in the presence of mechanical stimuli, as well as bone degradation in the absence of such stimuli. As yet, we do not fully comprehend how osteocytes sense mechanical stimuli, and only know a fraction of the whole range of molecules that osteocytes subsequently produce to regulate bone formation and degradation in response to mechanical stimuli. This dramatically hampers the design of bone loss prevention strategies. In this review we will focus on the first step in the cascade of events leading to adaptation of bone mass to mechanical loading, i.e., on how osteocytes are able to perceive mechanical stimuli placed on whole bones. We will place particular emphasis on the role of the osteocyte cytoskeleton in mechanosensing. Given the crucial importance of osteocytes in maintaining a proper resistance against bone fracture, greater knowledge of the molecular mechanisms that govern the adaptive response of osteocytes to mechanical stimuli may lead to the development of new strategies towards fracture prevention and enhanced bone healing.

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