Osteocytes, the most numerous cells in bone, are critical for bone health and bone quality. They are essential for bone to sense and adapt to mechanical stimuli and to remodel damaged tissue. Since osteocytes are completely encased in mineralized bone matrix, their survival and function are entirely dependent on transport of solutes (metabolites, growth factors, cytokines, and other signaling molecules) through the lacunar-canalicular system (LCS). Despite advances in delineating transport pathways in bone, little is known about the mechanisms involved in moving biological molecules to and from osteocytes in vivo. This reflects a lack of methods available to study these questions under real-time conditions in living animals. To this end, we recently developed a new imaging method based on Fluorescence Recovery After Photobleaching (FRAP) that allows measurement of solute movement in the bone LCS in situ and in real-time (Wang et al.,2005. Proc Natl Acad Sci 102:11911). We propose to use this novel approach in combination with mathematical / computational modeling to fully characterize diffusion and convection in bone. To test the hypothesis that convection due to mechanical loading is the primary mechanism for moving large molecules in the LCS, we will first quantify the baseline diffusive transport of solutes of various sizes in post-mortem bones. Convective transport driven by blood pressure and mechanical loading will be subsequently measured in live animals. These studies will delineate the transport mechanisms that are essential for osteocyte viability and bone mechano-transduction, and provide new insights into mass transport in other biological and engineered systems (e.g., tissue engineering scaffolds). Detailed knowledge of how molecules move within bone will help define molecular parameters such as hydrodynamic radii and half-life times for new drugs so that they can be delivered effectively into bone to treat diseases such as osteoporosis and arthritis.
Our specific aims are: 1) to determine how solute diffusion in the bone LCS depends on the solute's molecular weight;2) to determine how solute transport in the bone LCS is affected by vascular pressure;3) to determine how solute transport in the bone LCS is affected by mechanical loading.
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