Expression of bone morphogenetic protein messenger RNA in prolonged cultures of fetal rat calvarial cells.
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In addition to structural proteins of bone, such as type I collagen, bone cells synthesize a number of growth regulatory peptides that are also stored in the bone matrix, presumably as a consequence of local production by osteoblasts. Among the bone growth regulatory peptides found in the bone matrix are the recently described bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs). These factors were purified from bone matrix by their capacity to stimulate ectopic bone formation, but it is not known whether they are produced by normal bone cells and influence normal bone formation. To determine whether they are expressed by normal osteoblasts during differentiation, we used the technique of prolonged primary culture of fetal rat calvarial osteoblasts. These cultures have been shown to be an informative model for studying expression of bone-related genes by cultured osteoblasts, since specific genes are expressed as the cells undergo proliferation and differentiation. We found that the bone morphogenetic proteins 1, 2, 4, and 6 are expressed by cultures of fetal rat calvarial osteoblasts before they form mineralized bone nodules and as they express alkaline phosphatase, osteocalcin, and osteopontin. This model can be used for study of regulation of expression of bone morphogenetic proteins by osteoblasts.