Osteocytes reflect a pro-inflammatory state following spinal cord injury in a rodent model Academic Article uri icon


  • Profound bone loss occurs following spinal cord injury (SCI) resulting in a high incidence of fractures. While likely caused in part by loss of weight-bearing, there is greater bone loss following SCI when compared to that observed in other disuse animal models. Patients with SCI have a protracted inflammatory response, with elevated circulating levels of pro-inflammatory markers. This chronic inflammation could compound the bone loss attributed to disuse and the loss of neural signaling. To assess this, we examined inflammatory markers and bone turnover regulators in osteocytes from rats with a moderate spinal contusion injury (SCI) and intact controls (CON). We counted osteocytes positive for cytokines [tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and interleukin-17 (IL-17), and interleukin-10 (IL-10)], osteoclastogenesis regulators RANKL and OPG, and the bone formation inhibitor sclerostin, 32 days after the spinal contusion. By day 9 post-injury, the majority of SCI rats had recovered significant locomotor function and were bearing weight on their hindlimbs. However, despite weight-bearing, peripheral QCT scans demonstrated lower bone mass due to SCI in the proximal tibia metaphysis compared to CON. SCI animals also had lower cancellous bone volume, lower bone formation rate (BFR), lower osteoid surface (OS), and higher osteoclast surface (Oc.S). Tibial mid-shaft periosteal BFR was also lower after SCI. Immunohistochemical staining of the distal femur bone revealed cancellous osteocytes positive for TNF-α, IL-6, IL-17, and IL-10 were elevated in SCI animals relative to intact controls. Protein expression of RANKL+, OPG+, and sclerostin+ osteocytes was also higher in SCI rats. At the cortical midshaft, osteocyte TNF-α, IL-6, and sclerostin were statistically higher in SCI vs. CON. With regression analysis, inflammatory factors were associated with changes in bone turnover. In conclusion, inflammatory factors as well as altered mechanical loading influence bone turnover following a moderate SCI. Treatments aimed at minimizing fracture risk after SCI may need to target both the chronically altered inflammatory state as well as disuse-induced bone loss.

altmetric score

  • 1.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Metzger, C. E., Gong, S., Aceves, M., Bloomfield, S. A., & Hook, M. A.

citation count

  • 10

publication date

  • December 2018

published in