Estrogen (E2) has been shown to prevent bone loss among postmenopausal women. The molecular mechanism(s) by which this is accomplished is not clear. The discovery of E2 receptor (ER) in osteoblasts and osteoclasts has implicated these cells as direct targets for E2. Previous studies on the effects of E2 on osteoblastic cells in vitro or in organ culture present conflicting results, possibly due to heterogeneity in cell types, stage of differentiation, ER levels, and/or species differences. The effects of E2 on gene expression during various stages of human osteoblast cell differentiation has not been investigated extensively. In this study we employed a newly developed human fetal osteoblastic cell line (hFOB/ER9) that contains high levels of ER to examine the effects of E2 on osteoblast proliferation and differentiation. The basal levels and E2 effects on the expression of various extracellular matrix proteins were also characterized throughout different stages of differentiation. These stages include a proliferative/relatively undifferentiated stage (day 6), a matrix maturation stage (days 10-14), and a mineralization/calcified nodule stage (day 18). During the stage of rapid cell proliferation, E2 treatment of hFOB/ER9 cells resulted in a dose-dependent decrease in [3H]thymidine incorporation to a maximum of 72% compared to the vehicle control value. Treatment of hFOB/ER9 cells with 10-9 M E2 for 48 h resulted in an increase in alkaline phosphatase (AP) activity throughout cell differentiation. The magnitude of AP induction varied from ~200-500%. In contrast, E2 decreased osteocalcin protein levels to a minimum of 54% compared to the vehicle control value. The steady state messenger RNA levels for AP increased and osteocalcin decreased after E2 treatment, similar to the responses observed at the protein level. At all stages, there was little or no effect of E2 on type I collagen protein levels or osteonectin steady state messenger RNA levels. The E2 responses on hFOB/ER9 cell matrix protein expression and cell proliferation were mediated through the ER, as cultures cotreated with a 100-fold molar excess of a type II anti-E2 (ICI 182,780) abrogated these effects. These results support the hypothesis that E2 does have an effect on osteoblastic differentiation by decreasing hFOB/ER9 cell proliferation and differentially regulating extracellular matrix expression.
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