We recently developed an experimental model whereby a single 10-min episode of mechanical stimulation induces bone formation in the eighth caudal vertebra of 13-wk-old rats. We used this model to relate the kinetics of the bone-forming response, as measured by administration of fluorescent markers, to an in situ hybridization analysis of changes in mRNA for two matrix proteins (type I collagen and osteocalcin) and a growth factor implicated in the regulation of bone formation [insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I). We found that increased fluorochrome labeling was accompanied by an increase in the proportion of trabecular bone surfaces on which transcripts for collagen type I and osteocalcin were detectable, from < 3 to 25% 72 h after loading. IGF-I expression on trabecular surfaces showed a slightly earlier increase. We also noted intense hybridization for IGF-I in osteocytes in the diaphyseal cortex and in metaphyseal trabeculae. This was observed only in loaded bones, within 6 h of loading, and became undetectable in trabecular osteocytes 48 h and cortical osteocytes 120 h after loading. This is the first identification of a specific mRNA species in osteocytes after mechanical stimulation. Its production before the increase in transcription of matrix protein mRNA, and before the transcription of IGF-I mRNA in bone surface cells, represents persuasive evidence for a role for osteocytes, and for IGF-I, in the osteogenic response of bone to mechanical stimulation.
Keywords: cytokines; bone matrix protein; collagen; osteocalcin; osteoblasts