Allen, Matthew Robert (2003-08). Mechanisms of impaired osteoblast function during disuse. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • Prolonged periods of non-weightbearing activity result in a significant loss of bone mass which increases the risk of fracture with the initiation of mechanical loading. The loss of bone mass is partially driven by declines in bone formation yet the mechanisms responsible for this decline are unclear. To investigate the limitations of osteoblasts during disuse, marrow ablation was superimposed on hindlimb unloaded mice. Marrow ablation is a useful model to study osteoblast functionality as new cancellous bone is rapidly formed throughout the marrow of a long bone while hindlimb unloading is the most common method used to produce skeletal unloading. The specific hypotheses of this study were aimed at determining if changes in osteoblast functionality, differentiation, and/or proliferation were compromised in non-weightbearing bone in response to a bone formation stimulus. Additionally, the influence of having compromised osteoblast functionality at the time of stimulation was assessed in non-weightbearing bones. Key outcome measures used to address these hypotheses included static and dynamic cancellous bone histomorphometry, bone densitometry, and real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analyses of gene expression. The results document similar ablation-induced increases of cancellous bone in both weightbearing and unloaded animals. Similarly, there was no influence of load on ablation-induced increases in cancellous bone forming surface or mineral apposition rate. Unloading did significantly attenuate the ablation-induced increase in bone formation rate, due to reduced levels of total surface mineralization. When osteoblast functionality was compromised prior to marrow ablation, bone formation rate increases were also attenuated in ablated animals due to reduced mineralization. Additionally, increases in forming surface were attenuated as compared to unloaded animals having normal osteoblast function at the time of ablation. Collectively, these data identify mineralization as the limiting step in new bone formation during periods of disuse. The caveat, however, is that when bone formation is stimulated after a period of unloading sufficient to compromise osteoblast functionality, increases in osteoblast recruitment to the bone surface are compromised.

publication date

  • August 2003