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Open Access Hypothesis

Long-term potentiation in bone – a role for glutamate in strain-induced cellular memory?

Gary J Spencer* and Paul G Genever

Author Affiliations

Biomedical Tissue Research, Department of Biology, University of York, York, YO10 5YW, UK

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BMC Cell Biology 2003, 4:9  doi:10.1186/1471-2121-4-9

Published: 31 July 2003

Abstract

Background

The adaptive response of bone cells to mechanical strain is a primary determinant of skeletal architecture and bone mass. In vivo mechanical loading induces new bone formation and increases bone mineral density whereas disuse, immobilisation and weightlessness induce bone loss. The potency of mechanical strain is such that a single brief period of loading at physiological strain magnitude is able to induce a long-lasting osteogenic response that lasts for days. Although the process of mechanotransduction in bone is incompletely understood, observations that responses to mechanical strain outlast the duration of stimulation necessitate the existence of a form of cellular memory through which transient strain episodes are recorded, interpreted and remembered by bone cells. Recent evidence supports the existence of a complex multicellular glutamate-signalling network in bone that shares functional similarities to glutamatergic neurotransmission in the central nervous system. In neurones, these signalling molecules coordinate synaptic communication required to support learning and memory formation, through a complex process of long-term potentiation.

Presentation of the hypothesis

We hypothesise that osteoblasts use a cellular mechanism similar or identical to neuronal long-term potentiation in the central nervous system to mediate long-lasting changes in osteogenesis following brief periods of mechanical strain.

Testing the hypothesis

N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonism should inhibit the saturating response of mechanical strain and reduce the enhanced osteogenicity of segregated loading to that of an equivalent period of uninterrupted loading. Changes in α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-isoxazole propionate (AMPA) receptor expression, localisation and electrophysiological responses should be induced by mechanical strain and inhibited by modulators of neuronal long-term potentiation.

Implications of the hypothesis

If true, this hypothesis would provide a mechanism through which the skeleton could be pharmacologically primed to enhance or retrieve the normal osteogenic response to exercise. This would form a basis through which novel therapies could be developed to target osteoporosis and other prevalent bone disorders associated with low bone mass.