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J. Biol. Chem. 282 (33): 24120-24130

© 2007 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.

Glucocorticoids Induce Osteocyte Apoptosis by Blocking Focal Adhesion Kinase-mediated Survival


Lillian I. Plotkin, Stavros C. Manolagas, , and Teresita Bellido1

Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, the Center for Osteoporosis and Metabolic Bone Diseases, the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas 72205-7199

Abstract: Bone fragility induced by chronic glucocorticoid excess is due, at least in part, to induction of osteocyte apoptosis through direct actions on these cells. However, the molecular mechanism by which glucocorticoids shorten osteocyte life span has remained heretofore unknown. We report that apoptosis of osteocytic MLO-Y4 cells induced by the synthetic glucocorticoid dexamethasone is abolished by the glucocorticoid receptor antagonist RU486, but not by inhibition of protein or RNA synthesis. Dexamethasone-induced apoptosis is preceded by a decrease in the number of cytoplasmic processes, an indicator of cell detachment. In addition, the focal adhesion kinase FAK prevents dexamethasone-induced apoptosis, whereas the FAK-related kinase Pyk2 increases the basal levels of apoptosis. Dexamethasone-induced apoptosis is also prevented in cells expressing kinase-deficient or phosphorylation-defective (Y402F) dominant negative mutants of Pyk2. Consistent with the requirement of tyrosine 402, dexamethasone induces rapid Pyk2 phosphorylation in this residue. Moreover, knocking down Pyk2 expression abolishes apoptosis and cell detachment induced by dexamethasone, and transfection with human Pyk2 rescues both responses. Furthermore, induction of apoptosis as well as cell detachment by dexamethasone is abolished by inhibiting the activity of JNK, a recognized downstream target of Pyk2 activation. These results demonstrate that glucocorticoids promote osteocyte apoptosis via a receptor-mediated mechanism that does not require gene transcription and that is mediated by rapid activation of Pyk2 and JNK, followed by inside-out signaling that leads to cell detachment-induced apoptosis or anoikis.

Received for publication December 13, 2006. Revision received May 14, 2007.

* This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health KO2-AR02127 and P01-AG13918 and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Confocal images were taken at facilities in the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Digital and Confocal Microscopy Laboratory supported by National Institutes of Health Grant 2 P20 RR 16460, and PI:Larry Cornett, INBRE, Partnerships for Biomedical Research in Arkansas. The costs of publication of this article were defrayed in part by the payment of page charges. This article must therefore be hereby marked "advertisement" in accordance with 18 U.S.C. Section 1734 solely to indicate this fact.

1 To whom correspondence should be addressed: 4301 West Markham St., Slot 587, Little Rock, AR 72205. Tel.: 501-686-8971; Fax: 501-686-8148; E-mail: tmbellido{at}

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