Mathematical Modeling of Spatio-Temporal Dynamics of a Single Bone Multicellular Unit


  • The authors state that they have no conflicts of interest.


During bone remodeling, bone-resorbing osteoclasts and bone-forming osteoblasts are organized in bone multicellular units (BMUs), which travel at a rate of 20–40 μm/d for 6–12 mo, maintaining a cylindrical structure. However, the interplay of local BMU geometry with biochemical regulation is poorly understood. We developed a mathematical model of BMU describing changes in time and space of the concentrations of proresorptive cytokine RANKL and its inhibitor osteoprotegerin (OPG), in osteoclast and osteoblast numbers, and in bone mass. We assumed that osteocytes surrounding a microfracture produce RANKL, which attracted osteoclasts. OPG and RANKL were produced by osteoblasts and diffused through bone, RANKL was eliminated by binding to OPG and RANK. Osteoblasts were coupled to osteoclasts through paracrine factors. The evolution of the BMU arising from this model was studied using numerical simulations. Our model recapitulated the spatio-temporal dynamics observed in vivo in a cross-section of bone. In response to a RANKL field, osteoclasts moved as a well-confined cutting cone. The coupling of osteoclasts to osteoblasts allowed for sufficient recruitment of osteoblasts to the resorbed surfaces. The RANKL field was the highest at the microfracture in front of the BMU, whereas the OPG field peaked at the back of the BMU, resulting in the formation of a RANKL/OPG gradient, which strongly affected the rate of BMU progression and its size. Thus, the spatial organization of a BMU provides important constraints on the roles of RANKL and OPG as well as possibly other regulators in determining the outcome of remodeling in the BMU.