Sclerostin is a product of mature osteocytes embedded in mineralised bone and is a negative regulator of bone mass and osteoblast differentiation. While evidence suggests that sclerostin has an anti-anabolic role, the possibility also exists that sclerostin has catabolic activity. To test this we treated human primary pre-osteocyte cultures, cells we have found are exquisitely sensitive to sclerostin, or mouse osteocyte-like MLO-Y4 cells, with recombinant human sclerostin (rhSCL) and measured effects on pro-catabolic gene expression. Sclerostin dose-dependently up-regulated the expression of receptor activator of nuclear factor kappa B (RANKL) mRNA and down-regulated that of osteoprotegerin (OPG) mRNA, causing an increase in the RANK:OPG mRNA ratio. To examine the effects of rhSCL on resulting osteoclastic activity, MLO-Y4 cells plated onto a bone-like substrate were primed with rhSCL for 3 days and then either mouse splenocytes or human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) were added. This resulted in cultures with elevated osteoclastic resorption (approximately 7-fold) compared to untreated co-cultures. The increased resorption was abolished by co-addition of recombinant OPG. In co-cultures of MLO-Y4 cells with PBMC, SCL also increased the number and size of the TRAP-positive multinucleated cells formed. Importantly, rhSCL had no effect on TRAP-positive cell formation from monocultures of either splenocytes or PBMC. Further, rhSCL did not induce apoptosis of MLO-Y4 cells, as determined by caspase activity assays, demonstrating that the osteoclastic response was not driven by dying osteocytes. Together, these results suggest that sclerostin may have a catabolic action through promotion of osteoclast formation and activity by osteocytes, in a RANKL-dependent manner.
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