Atum M Buo, Ryan E Tomlinson, Eric R Eidelman, Max Chason, Joseph P Stains
The coupling of osteoblasts and osteocytes by connexin43 (Cx43) gap junctions permits the sharing of second messengers that coordinate bone cell function and cortical bone acquisition. However, details of how Cx43 converts shared second messengers into signals that converge onto essential osteogenic processes are incomplete. Here, we use in vitro and in vivo methods to show that Cx43 and Runx2 functionally interact to regulate osteoblast gene expression and proliferation, ultimately affecting cortical bone properties. Using compound hemizygous mice for the Gja1 (Cx43) and Runx2 genes, we observed a skeletal phenotype not visible in wild-type or singly hemizygous animals. Cortical bone analysis by micro–computed tomography (μCT) revealed that 8-week-old male, compound Gja1+/– Runx2+/– mice have a marked increase in cross-sectional area, endosteal and periosteal bone perimeter, and an increase in porosity compared to controls. These compound Gja1+/– Runx2+/– mice closely approximate the cortical bone phenotypes seen in osteoblast-specific Gja1-conditional knockout models. Furthermore, μCT analysis of skulls revealed an altered interparietal bone geometry in compound hemizygotes. Consistent with this finding, Alizarin red/Alcian blue staining of 2-day-old Gja1+/– Runx2+/– neonates showed a hypomorphic interparietal bone, an exacerbation of the open fontanelles, and a further reduction in the hypoplastic clavicles compared to Runx2+/– neonates. Expression of osteoblast genes, including osteocalcin, osterix, periostin, and Hsp47, was markedly reduced in tibial RNA extracts from compound hemizygous mice, and osteoblasts from compound hemizygous mice exhibited increased proliferative capacity. Further, the reduced osteocalcin expression and hyperproliferative nature of osteoblasts from Cx43 deficient mice was rescued by Runx2 expression. In summary, these findings provide evidence that Cx43 and Runx2 functionally intersect in vivo to regulate cortical bone properties and affect osteoblast differentiation and proliferation, and likely contributes to aspects of the skeletal phenotype of Cx43 conditional knockout mice.