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Abstract

Osteocytes are derived from a select group of osteoblasts that have undergone a final differentiation. Due to their inaccessibility when embedded in the bone matrix, very little is known about the osteocyte cytoskeleton. This study provides an extensive analysis of the osteocyte cytoskeleton, based on the successful isolation of osteocytes from 16-day embryonic chick calvariae. We used OB7.3, a chicken osteocyte-specific monoclonal antibody, to confirm the osteocytic phenotype of the isolated cells and established culture conditions to promote growth of cells that most resemble osteocytes in vivo. Immunofluorescence staining with antitubulin, antivimentin, and antiactin showed the relative distribution of the microtubules, intermediate filaments, and actin filaments in both osteocyte cell body and processes. Field emission scanning electron microscopy revealed the three-dimensional relationships of the cytoskeletal elements and a unique organization of actin bundles that spanned the cell body and osteocyte processes. When combined with drug studies, these experiments demonstrate that actin filaments are crucial for the maintenance of osteocyte shape. Furthermore, we identified two actin-bundling proteins, alpha-actinin and fimbrin, in osteocyte processes. The prominence and unique distribution of fimbrin in osteocyte processes provides the possibility of its use as an intracellular marker to distinguish osteocytes from osteoblasts.