Chronic inflammatory disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are often accompanied by systemic bone loss, which is thought to occur through inflammatory cytokine-mediated stimulation of osteoclast resorption and inhibition of osteoblast function. However, the mechanisms involved in osteoblast inhibition remain poorly understood. Here we test the hypothesis that increased Smad ubiquitin regulatory factor 1 (Smurf1)-mediated degradation of the bone morphogenetic protein pathway signaling proteins mediates reduced bone formation in inflammatory disorders. Osteoblasts derived from bone marrow or long bone samples of adult tumor necrosis factor (TNF) transgenic (TNF-Tg) mice were used in this study. TNF decreased the steady-state levels of Smad1 and Runx2 protein similarly to those in long bones of TNF-Tg mice. In the presence of the proteasome inhibitor MG132, TNF increased accumulation of ubiquitinated Smad1 protein. TNF administration over calvarial bones caused decreases in Smad1 and Runx2 protein levels and mRNA expression of osteoblast marker genes in wild-type, but not in Smurf1(-/-) mice. Vertebral bone volume and strength of TNF-Tg/Smurf1(-/-) mice were examined by a combination of micro-CT, bone histomorphometry, and biomechanical testing and compared with those from TNF-Tg littermates. TNF-Tg mice had significantly decreased bone volume and biomechanical properties, which were partially rescued in TNF-Tg/Smurf1(-/-) mice. We conclude that in chronic inflammatory disorders where TNF is increased, TNF induces the expression of ubiquitin ligase Smurf1 and promotes ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation of Smad1 and Runx2, leading to systemic bone loss. Inhibition of ubiquitin-mediated Smad1 and Runx2 degradation in osteoblasts could help to treat inflammation-induced osteoporosis.
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