Both the number and the activity of osteoclasts are critical for maintaining normal bone turnover. The number is determined by rates of cell differentiation and death. Fas-mediated apoptosis is a dominant mechanism for apoptosis. Here, we show the presence of the Fas receptor on mouse, human, avian, and cultured RAW264.7 (murine) derived osteoclasts and the up-regulation of its expression during mouse osteoclast differentiation. Additionally, Fas is a fully functional death receptor in osteoclasts, and its signaling pathway is consistent with classical Fas signaling in other cell systems, involving mitochondrial release of cytochrome c and activation of caspases 3 and 9. This demonstration of Fas-mediated apoptosis in mature osteoclasts provides a new and potent mechanism for the regulation of osteoclast life span. The in vivo significance of Fas-mediated apoptosis in bone (osteoclasts) was demonstrated in aged Lpr and Gld mice, which have a dysfunctional immune system. Lpr mice, which have a defect in the Fas gene, have decreased bone mineral density, bone volume, trabecular thickness, and increased osteoclast number. Gld mice, which have a Fas ligand mutation, have a slight yet insignificant decrease in bone mineral density, but a highly significant increase in osteoclast number. Taken together, these data demonstrate that the Fas/Fas ligand system is important in the regulation of bone turnover and may represent a critical link between the immune system and bone remodeling in development and in various diseases.
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