Bone is a dynamic tissue that site-specifically adapts to the load that it experiences. In response to increasing load, the cortical bone area is increased, mainly through enhanced periosteal bone formation. This increase in area is associated with an increase in the number of bone-forming osteoblasts; however, the origin of the cells involved remains unclear. Alpha-smooth muscle actin (αSMA) is a marker of early osteoprogenitor cells in the periosteum, and we hypothesized that the new osteoblasts that are activated by loading could originate from αSMA-expressing cells. Therefore, we used an in vivo fate-mapping approach in an established axial loading model to investigate the role of αSMA-expressing cells in the load-induced increase in osteoblasts. Histomorphometric analysis was applied to measure the number of cells of different origin on the periosteal surface in the most load-responsive region of the mouse tibia. A single loading session failed to increase the number of periosteal αSMA-expressing cells and osteoblasts. However, in response to multiple episodes of loading, the caudal, but not the cranial, periosteal surface was lined with an increased number of osteoblasts originating from αSMA-expressing cells 5 days after the initial loading session. The proportion of osteoblasts derived from αSMA-labeled progenitors increased by 70% (p < 0.05), and the proportion of αSMA-labeled cells that had differentiated into osteoblasts was doubled. We conclude that αSMA-expressing osteoprogenitors can differentiate and contribute to the increase in periosteal osteoblasts induced by mechanical loading in a site-specific manner.
Mouse; Axial loading; Lineage tracing; Osteoblasts; Osteoprogenitor