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Keywords:

  • bone mass;
  • osteoblasts;
  • epidermal growth factor receptor;
  • betacellulin;
  • transgenic mice

Abstract

Signaling through the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) by ligands such as epidermal growth factor (EGF), transforming growth factor α (TGFA), and amphiregulin (AREG) has been reported to have effects on skeletal growth. The role of betacellulin (BTC), another EGFR ligand, in skeletal development and bone metabolism is unknown. In previous experiments, transgenic mice overexpressing BTC ubiquitously under the control of the chicken β-actin promoter (BTC-tg) exhibited stunted growth and disproportionately sized long bones. In this study, we performed a detailed phenotypic analysis of BTC-tg mice at 3, 6, and 9 wk of age. Osteoblastic cells from transgenic mice showed strong expression of BTC as determined by Western blots and by immunohistochemistry on bone sections. In femurs of male and female BTC-tg mice, we found reduced longitudinal bone growth and a pronounced increase in total volumetric BMD. The increased femoral BMD was mainly caused by augmented endocortical bone apposition and subsequent cortical bone thickening. In contrast, vertebral BMD was reduced in BTC-tg mice of both sexes. An overall similar phenotype was found in 6-mo-old BTC-tg mice. The increase in cortical bone mass in the appendicular skeleton of BTC-tg mice was largely blocked when they were crossed into the EgfrWa5 background characterized by a dominant negative EGFR. Our study showed that overexpression of BTC results in an EGFR-dependent upregulation of cortical bone mass in the appendicular skeleton of mice, uncovering a potential novel anabolic pathway for cortical bone.