• osteoblasts;
  • P2X7;
  • 2′,3′-(4-benzoyl)-benzoyl-adenosine triphosphate;
  • immunocytochemistry;
  • apoptosis


There is now conclusive evidence that extracellular nucleotides acting via cell surface P2 receptors are important local modulators of bone cell function. Multiple subtypes of P2 receptors have been localized to bone, where their activation modulates multiple processes including osteoblast proliferation, osteoblast-mediated bone formation, and osteoclast formation and resorptive capacity. Locally released nucleotides also have been shown to sensitize surrounding cells to the action of systemic factors such as parathyroid hormone (PTH). In nonskeletal tissue recent attention has focused on one particular P2 receptor, the P2X7 receptor (previously termed P2Z), and its ability to form nonselective aqueous pores in the plasma membrane on prolonged stimulation. Expression of this receptor originally was thought to be restricted to cells of hemopoietic origin, in which it has been implicated in cell fusion, apoptosis, and release of proinflammatory cytokines. However, recent reports have indicated expression of this receptor in cells of stromal origin. In this study, we investigated the expression of the P2X7 receptor in two human osteosarcoma cell lines, as well as several populations of primary human bone-derived cells (HBDCs) at the levels of messenger RNA (mRNA) and protein. We found that there is a subpopulation of osteoblasts that expresses the P2X7 receptor and that these receptors are functional as assessed by monitoring ethidium bromide uptake following pore formation. Inhibition of delayed lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) release in response to the specific agonist 2′,3′-(4-benzoyl)-benzoyl-adenosine triphosphate (BzATP) by the nonspecific P2X receptor antagonist PPADS confirmed a receptor-mediated event. After treatment with BzATP SaOS-2 cells exhibited dramatic morphological changes consistent with those observed after P2X7-mediated apoptosis in hemopoietic cells. Dual staining with terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated deoxyuridine triphosphate-biotin nick end labeling (TUNEL) and a P2X7-specific monoclonal antibody confirmed the induction of apoptosis in osteoblasts expressing the P2X7 receptor. These data show for the first time the expression of functional P2X7 receptors in a subpopulation of osteoblasts, activation of which can result in ATP-mediated apoptosis.