We previously showed that anti-fibronectin antibodies or soluble fibronectin fragments containing the central cell-binding domain inhibit formation of mineralized nodules by fetal calvarial osteoblasts in vitro. These findings suggest a critical role for fibronectin in osteoblast differentiation and morphogenesis. In this study we tested the hypothesis that fibronectin's effects on osteogenesis are mediated via direct interactions with integrin receptors for fibronectin on osteoblasts. Immunocytochemical analysis identified the integrin fibronectin receptor alpha5ss1 in fetal rat calvarial tissue and in cultured osteoblasts at all stages of differentiation. Three other integrins, alpha3ss1, alpha8ss1 and alphavss3, which can bind fibronectin, as well as other matrix components, were also identified in tissue and at all stages of cell culture. Immunoprecipitation data showed that alpha5ss1 levels are constant throughout osteoblast differentiation whereas levels of alpha3ss1 and alpha8ss1 decline in mature mineralized cultures. To determine whether integrin fibronectin receptors are required for osteoblast formation of mineralized nodules, we examined the extent of nodule formation in the presence and absence of function-perturbing anti-integrin antibodies. The antibodies were present continuously in cultures beginning at confluence (day 3), and nodule formation was measured at days 10 and 20. An anti-alpha5 integrin subunit antibody reduced nodule formation to less than 5% of control values at both time points. Inhibition of nodule formation was reversible and did not affect cell attachment and viability. Function-perturbing antibodies against alpha3ss1 and alpha8ss1 also reduced nodule formation, to less than 20% of control values. In contrast, function-perturbing antibodies to alphavss3 and alphavss5 did not affect nodule formation, indicating that the inhibitions noted were indeed specific. To determine the effect of antibody treatment on gene expression, steady-state mRNA expression was examined and found to be suppressed for osteoblast markers alkaline phosphatase and osteocalcin. Together, these results indicate that direct osteoblast interactions with the extracellular matrix are mediated by a select group of integrin receptors that includes alpha5ss1, alpha3ss1 and alpha8ss1. We further conclude that the specific alpha5ss1 fibronectin receptor mediates critical interactions between osteoblasts and fibronectin required for both bone morphogenesis and osteoblast differentiation.

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