Osteoporosis is a major clinical problem in chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. The mechanism of bone loss in this condition remains unclear, but previous studies have indicated that depressed bone formation plays a causal role. Since cytokine-induced nitric oxide (NO) production has been shown to inhibit osteoblast growth and differentiation in vitro, this study was undertaken to investigate the role of the inducible NO synthase (iNOS) pathway in the pathogenesis of inflammation-mediated osteoporosis (IMO) by studying mice with targeted inactivation of the iNOS gene (iNOS knockout [iNOS KO] mice).


IMO was induced in wild-type (WT) and iNOS KO mice by subcutaneous injections of magnesium silicate. The skeletal response was assessed at the tibial metaphysis by measurements of bone mineral density (BMD), using peripheral quantitative computed tomography, by bone histomorphometry, and by measurements of bone cell apoptosis.


NO production increased 2.5-fold (P < 0.005) in WT mice with IMO, but did not change significantly in iNOS KO mice. Total BMD values decreased by a mean ± SEM of 14.4 ± 2.0% in WT mice with IMO, compared with a decrease of 8.6 ± 1.2% in iNOS KO mice with IMO (P < 0.01). Histomorphometric analysis confirmed that trabecular bone volume was lower in WT mice with IMO compared with iNOS KO mice with IMO (16.2 ± 1.5% versus 23.4 ± 2.6%; P < 0.05) and showed that IMO was associated with reduced bone formation and a 320% increase in osteoblast apoptosis (P < 0.005) in WT mice. In contrast, iNOS KO mice with IMO showed less inhibition of bone formation than WT mice and showed no significant increase in osteoblast apoptosis.


Inducible NOS–mediated osteoblast apoptosis and depressed bone formation play important roles in the pathogenesis of IMO.