Primary calvarial osteoblast cultures derived from type I collagen promoter-GFP reporter transgenic mice were used to examine progression of the osteoblast lineage. This system was validated by assessing the effect of PTH on osteoblast growth in real time. The anabolic effect of PTH seemed to be the result of enhanced osteoblast differentiation rather than expansion of a progenitor population.
Introduction: Activation of green fluorescent protein (GFP) marker genes driven by Col1a1 promoter fragments has been associated with the level of osteoblast differentiation. GFP-marked cultures provide an approach to continuously monitor the level of osteoblast differentiation in real time without the termination of cultures.
Materials and Methods: Neonatal calvarial cells transgenic for pOBCol2.3GFP and pOBCol3.6GFP were used to establish calvarial osteoblast cultures. Parathyroid hormone (PTH) was added either continuous (days 1–21) or transient (days 1–7) to examine its diverse effect on osteoblast differentiation in cultures for 21 days. Three fluorescent markers were used: (1) pOBCol3.6GFP, which is activated in preosteoblastic cells; (2) pOBCol2.3GFP, which is restricted to differentiated osteoblasts; and (3) xylenol orange (XO), which stains the mineralized nodules. Progression of osteoblast differentiation indicated by fluorescent markers was documented throughout the entire period of culture. Recorded fluorescent images were analyzed in the patterns of expression and quantitated in the area of expression.
Results: Continuous PTH blocked osteoblast differentiation, which was evident by the attenuation of pOBCol3.6GFP and an absence of pOBCol2.3GFP. In contrast, transient PTH inhibited the initial osteoblast differentiation but ultimately resulted in a culture with more mineralized nodules and enhanced osteoblast differentiation expressing strong levels of pOBCol3.6GFP and pOBCol2.3GFP. Quantitative analysis showed that transient PTH first decreased then later increased areas of GFP expression and XO staining, which correlated with results of Northern blot and alkaline phosphatase activity. Transient PTH caused a decrease in DNA content during the treatment and after the removal of PTH.
Conclusion: GFP-marked cultures combined with fluorescent image analysis have the advantage to assess the effect of PTH on osteoblast differentiation in real time. Results suggest that the anabolic effect of transient PTH is caused by an enhancement in osteoblast differentiation rather than an increase in the population of progenitor cells.