Connexin 43 (Cx43) is the most abundant gap junction protein in bone and has been demonstrated as an integral component of skeletal homeostasis. In the present study, we sought to further refine the role of Cx43 in the response to mechanical unloading by subjecting skeletally mature mice with a bone-specific deletion of Cx43 (cKO) to 3 weeks of mechanical unloading via hindlimb suspension (HLS). The HLS model was selected to recapitulate the effects of skeletal unloading due to prolonged bed rest, reduced activity associated with aging, and spaceflight microgravity. At baseline, the cortical bone of cKO mice displayed an osteopenic phenotype, with expanded cortices, decreased cortical thickness, decreased bone mineral density, and increased porosity. There was no baseline trabecular phenotype. After 3 weeks of HLS, wild-type (WT) mice experienced a substantial decline in trabecular bone volume fraction, connectivity density, trabecular thickness, and trabecular tissue mineral density. These deleterious effects were attenuated in cKO mice. Conversely, there was a similar and significant amount of cortical bone loss in both WT and cKO. Interestingly, mechanical testing revealed a greater loss of strength and rigidity for cKO during HLS. Analysis of double-label quantitative histomorphometry data demonstrated a substantial decrease in bone formation rate, mineralizing surface, and mineral apposition rate at both the periosteal and endocortical surfaces of the femur after unloading of WT mice. This suppression of bone formation was not observed in cKO mice, in which parameters were maintained at baseline levels. Taken together, the results of the present study indicate that Cx43 deficiency desensitizes bone to the effects of mechanical unloading, and that this may be due to an inability of mechanosensing osteocytes to effectively communicate the unloading state to osteoblasts to suppress bone formation. Cx43 may represent a novel therapeutic target for investigation as a countermeasure for age-related and unloading-induced bone loss.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine