Bone and skeletal muscle mass are highly correlated in mammals, suggesting the existence of common anabolic signaling networks that coordinate the development of these two anatomically adjacent tissues. The activin signaling pathway is an attractive candidate to fulfill such a role. Here, we generated mice with conditional deletion of activin receptor (ACVR) type 2A, ACVR2B, or both, in osteoblasts, to determine the contribution of activin receptor signaling in regulating bone mass. Immunohistochemistry localized ACVR2A and ACVR2B to osteoblasts and osteocytes. Primary osteoblasts expressed activin signaling components, including ACVR2A, ACVR2B, and ACVR1B (ALK4) and demonstrated increased levels of phosphorylated Smad2/3 upon exposure to activin ligands. Osteoblasts lacking ACVR2B did not show significant changes in vitro. However, osteoblasts deficient in ACVR2A exhibited enhanced differentiation indicated by alkaline phosphatase activity, mineral deposition, and transcriptional expression of osterix, osteocalcin, and dentin matrix acidic phosphoprotein 1. To investigate activin signaling in osteoblasts in vivo, we analyzed the skeletal phenotypes of mice lacking these receptors in osteoblasts and osteocytes (osteocalcin-Cre). Similar to the lack of effect in vitro, ACVR2B-deficient mice demonstrated no significant change in any bone parameter. By contrast, mice lacking ACVR2A had significantly increased femoral trabecular bone volume at 6 weeks of age. Moreover, mutant mice lacking both ACVR2A and ACVR2B demonstrated sustained increases in trabecular bone volume, similar to those in ACVR2A single mutants, at 6 and 12 weeks of age. Taken together, these results indicate that activin receptor signaling, predominantly through ACVR2A, directly and negatively regulates bone mass in osteoblasts.

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Published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry, v. 292, no. 33, p. 13809-13822.

This research was originally published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry. Brian C. Goh, Vandana Singhal, Angelica J. Herrera, Ryan E. Tomlinson, Soohyun Kim, Marie-Claude Faugere, Emily L. Germain-Lee, Thomas L. Clemens, Se-Jin Lee, and Douglas J. DiGirolamo. Activin Receptor Type 2A (ACVR2A) Functions Directly in Osteoblasts as a Negative Regulator of Bone Mass. J. Biol. Chem. 2017; 292:13809-13822. © The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.

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This work was supported by the NIAMS National Institutes of Health Grants R01AR062074 (to D. J. D.) and R01AR060636 (to S.-J. L.).