Mechanisms of osteocyte stimulation in osteoporosis

A study of osteocyte mechanical stimulation in osteoporosis, published in the Journal of the Mechanical Behaviour of Biomedical Materials in 2016 and available here.


Experimental studies have shown that primary osteoporosis caused by oestrogen-deficiency results in localised alterations in bone tissue properties and mineral composition. Additionally, changes to the lacunar–canalicular architecture surrounding the mechanosensitive osteocyte have been observed in animal models of the disease. Recently, it has also been demonstrated that the mechanical stimulation sensed by osteocytes changes significantly during osteoporosis. Specifically, it was shown that osteoporotic bone cells experience higher maximum strains than healthy bone cells after short durations of oestrogen deficiency. However, in long-term oestrogen deficiency there was no significant difference between bone cells in healthy and normal bone. The mechanisms by which these changes arise are unknown. In this study, we test the hypothesis that complex changes in tissue composition and lacunar–canalicular architecture during osteoporosis alter the mechanical stimulation of the osteocyte. The objective of this research is to employ computational methods to investigate the relationship between changes in bone tissue composition and microstructure and the mechanical stimulation of osteocytes during osteoporosis. By simulating physiological loading, it was observed that an initial decrease in tissue stiffness (of 0.425 GPa) and mineral content (of 0.66 wt% Ca) relative to controls could explain the mechanical stimulation observed at the early stages of oestrogen deficiency (5 weeks post-OVX) during in situ bone cell loading in an oestrogen-deficient rat model of post-menopausal osteoporosis (Verbruggen et al., 2015). Moreover, it was found that a later increase in stiffness (of 1.175 GPa) and mineral content (of 1.64 wt% Ca) during long-term osteoporosis (34 weeks post-OVX), could explain the mechanical stimuli previously observed at a later time point due to the progression of osteoporosis. Furthermore, changes in canalicular tortuosity arising during osteoporosis were shown to result in increased osteogenic strain stimulation, though to a lesser extent than has been observed experimentally. The findings of this study indicate that changes in the extracellular environment during osteoporosis, arising from altered mineralisation and lacunar–canalicular architecture, lead to altered mechanical stimulation of osteocytes, and provide an enhanced understanding of changes in bone mechanobiology during osteoporosis.