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Bioessays. 1998 Oct;20(10):837-46.

How the osteoclast degrades bone.

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Osteoclasts are multinucleated monocyte-macrophage derivatives that degrade bone. Their specialized role is central to a process that continuously removes and replaces segments of the skeleton in the higher vertebrates. Osteoclasts allow skeletal mineral to be used to manage extracellular calcium activity, which is an important adaptation for life on land, and solid skeletal structure to be replaced by hollow architecture that has a superior strength-to-weight ratio. Degrading bone also allows periodic repair and remodeling for ordered growth and efficient response to mechanical loads. A fairly comprehensive view of osteoclastic ontogeny and function is emerging from recent studies. Osteoclasts dissolve bone mineral by massive acid secretion and secrete specialized proteinases that degrade the organic matrix, mainly type I collagen, in this acidic milieu. The site of bone dissolution is a high-calcium environment; removal of degradation products by transcytosis of membrane vesicles allows the osteoclast to maintain a normal intracellular calcium. Osteoclastic differentiation is normally balanced with bone formation, although bone formation is the function of unrelated stromal cell-derived osteoblasts. Interactions between osteoclast precursors and bone-forming cells are believed to control osteoclast differentiation under most circumstances, preserving bone architecture over many cycles of bone replacement.

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