Richard S. Kao, Marcia J. Abbott, Alyssa Louie, Dylan O'Carroll, Weidar Lu, Robert Nissenson
Osteocytes have been implicated in the control of bone formation. However, the signal transduction pathways that regulate the biological function of osteocytes are poorly defined. Limited evidence suggests an important role for the Gs/cAMP pathway in osteocyte function. In the present study, we explored the hypothesis that cAMP-dependent kinase A (PKA) activation in osteocytes plays a key role in controlling skeletal homeostasis. To test this hypothesis, we mated mice harboring a Cre-conditional, mutated PKA catalytic subunit allele that encodes a constitutively active form of PKA (CαR) with mice expressing Cre under the control of the osteocyte-specific promoter, DMP1. This allowed us to direct the expression of CαR to osteocytes in double transgenic progeny. Examination of Cre expression indicated that CαR was also expressed in late osteoblasts. Cortical and trabecular bone parameters from 12-week old mice were determined by μCT. Expression of CαR in osteocytes and late osteoblasts altered the shape of cortical bone proximal to the tibia-fibular junction (TFJ) and produced a significant increase in its size. In trabecular bone of the distal femur, fractional bone volume, trabecular number, and trabecular thickness were increased. These increases were partially the results of increased bone formation rates (BFRs) on the endosteal surface of the cortical bone proximal to the TFJ as well as increased BFR on the trabecular bone surface of the distal femur. Mice expressing CαR displayed a marked increase in the expression of osteoblast markers such as osterix, runx2, collagen 1α1, and alkaline phosphatase (ALP). Interestingly, expression of osteocyte marker gene, DMP1, was significantly up-regulated but the osteocyte number per bone area was not altered. Expression of SOST, a presumed target for PKA signaling in osteocytes, was significantly down-regulated in females. Importantly, no changes in bone resorption were detected. In summary, constitutive PKA signaling in osteocytes and late osteoblasts led to a small expansion of the size of the cortical bone proximal to the TFJ and an increase in trabecular bone in female mice. This was associated with down-regulation of SOST and up-regulation of several osteoblast marker genes. Activation of the PKA pathway in osteocytes and late osteoblasts is sufficient for the initiation of an anabolic skeletal response.