Estrogen has bone protective effects, but the exact mechanism behind these effects remains unclear. The aim of the present study was to identify the primary target cells in bone for the classical genomic effects of estrogens in vivo. For this purpose we have used reporter mice with a luciferase gene under the control of three estrogen-responsive elements (EREs), enabling detection of in vivo activation of gene transcription. Three-month-old ovariectomized mice were treated with a single dose (50 μg/kg) 17β-estradiol (E2). Luciferase activity was analyzed in several tissues and in different bone marrow-derived lymphocyte enriched/depleted preparations using MacsMouse CD19 (for B lymphocytes) or CD90 (for T lymphocytes) MicroBeads (Miltenyi Biotec GmbH, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany). Histological characterization of cells with high luciferase content was performed using immunohistochemistry. Both cortical bone and bone marrow displayed a rapid (within 1 h) and pronounced E2-induced increase in luciferase activity. The luciferase activity in total bone marrow and in bone marrow depleted of lymphocytes was increased six to eight times more than in either B-lymphocyte or T-lymphocyte enriched cell fractions 4 h after the E2 injection, demonstrating that mature lymphocytes are not major direct targets for the genomic effect of estrogens in bone. Immunohistochemistry identified clear luciferase staining in hypertrophic growth plate chondrocytes, megakaryocytes, osteoblasts, and lining cells, whereas no staining was seen in proliferative chondrocyte. Although most of the osteocytes did not display any detectable luciferase staining, a subpopulation of osteocytes both in cortical and trabecular bone stained positive for luciferase. In conclusion, hypertrophic growth plate chondrocytes, megakaryocytes, osteoblasts, lining cells, and a subpopulation of osteocytes were identified to respond to estrogen via the classical ERE-mediated genomic pathway in bone. Furthermore, our findings indicate that possible direct estrogenic effects on the majority of osteocytes, not staining positive for luciferase, on proliferative chondrocytes and on mature lymphocytes are mediated by non-ERE actions.
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