Macrophages and skeletal health

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Abstract

Bone is in a constant state of remodeling, a process which was once attributed solely to osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Decades of research has identified many other populations of cells in the bone that participate and mediate skeletal homeostasis. Recently, osteal macrophages emerged as vital participants in skeletal remodeling and osseous repair. The exact mechanistic roles of these tissue-resident macrophages are currently under investigation. Macrophages are highly plastic in response to their micro-environment and are typically classified as being pro- or anti-inflammatory (pro-resolving) in nature. Given that inflammatory states result in decreased bone mass, proinflammatory macrophages may be negative regulators of bone turnover. Pro-resolving macrophages have been shown to release anabolic factors and may present a target for therapeutic intervention in inflammation-induced bone loss and fracture healing. The process of apoptotic cell clearance, termed efferocytosis, is mediated by pro-resolving macrophages and may contribute to steady-state bone turnover as well as fracture healing and anabolic effects of osteoporosis therapies. Parathyroid hormone is an anabolic agent in bone that is more effective in the presence of mature phagocytic macrophages, further supporting the hypothesis that efferocytic macrophages are positive contributors to bone turnover. Therapies which alter macrophage plasticity in tissues other than bone should be explored for their potential to treat bone loss either alone or in conjunction with current bone therapeutics. A better understanding of the exact mechanisms by which macrophages mediate bone homeostasis will lead to an expansion of pharmacologic targets for the treatment of osteoporosis and inflammation-induced bone loss.

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