Osteoclasts are the cells responsible for the resorption of bone and other mineralized tissues. GTP-binding proteins (G proteins) play important roles in regulating the activity of many cell types; however, there is limited knowledge of their functions in osteoclasts. We used the patch-clamp technique in the whole-cell configuration to introduce either hydrolysis-resistant guanosine triphosphate analogues or fluoroaluminate into single rat osteoclasts, and examined the effects of G protein activation on cell morphology and ionic conductances. Guanosine 5′-O-(3-thiotriphosphate) or 5′-guanylyl-imidodiphosphate, but not the control compounds adenosine 5′-O-(3-thiotriphosphate) or guanosine 5′-O-(2-thiodiphosphate), induced: (1) prompt spreading due to extension of lamellipodia; and (2) after a latency of several minutes, complete suppression of the inwardly rectifying K+ current. Pertussis toxin did not alter either spreading or suppression of K+ current induced by guanosine 5′-O-(3-thiotriphosphate). Cytochalasin D, but not colchicine, prevented guanosine 5′-O-(3-thiotriphosphate)-induced spreading, consistent with actin polymerization underlying lamellipod extension. Whole-cell capacitance did not change during guanosine 5′-O-(3-thiotriphosphate)-induced spreading, which is consistent with a lack of change in total plasma membrane area. Fluoroaluminate did not induce spreading, but it did suppress the K+ current. The differential effects of fluoroaluminate and guanosine 5′-O-(3-thiotriphosphate) suggest that lamellipod extension is regulated by a small molecular mass, monomeric G protein, whereas the inwardly rectifying K+ current is regulated by a large molecular mass, heterotrimeric G protein. Thus, osteoclast motility and ion transport are regulated by separate G protein-coupled pathways.

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