Ablation of Proliferating Osteoblast Lineage Cells After Fracture Leads to Atrophic Nonunion in a Mouse Model

Katherine R. Hixon, Jennifer A. McKenzie, David A.W. Sykes, Susumu Yoneda, Austin Hensley, Evan G. Buettmann, Hongjun Zheng, Dimitrios Skouteris, Audrey McAlinden, Anna N. Miller, Matthew J. Silva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Nonunion is defined as the permanent failure of a fractured bone to heal, often necessitating surgical intervention. Atrophic nonunions are a subtype that are particularly difficult to treat. Animal models of atrophic nonunion are available; however, these require surgical or radiation-induced trauma to disrupt periosteal healing. These methods are invasive and not representative of many clinical nonunions where osseous regeneration has been arrested by a “failure of biology”. We hypothesized that arresting osteoblast cell proliferation after fracture would lead to atrophic nonunion in mice. Using mice that express a thymidine kinase (tk) “suicide gene” driven by the 3.6Col1a1 promoter (Col1-tk), proliferating osteoblast lineage cells can be ablated upon exposure to the nucleoside analog ganciclovir (GCV). Wild-type (WT; control) and Col1-tk littermates were subjected to a full femur fracture and intramedullary fixation at 12 weeks age. We confirmed abundant tk+ cells in fracture callus of Col-tk mice dosed with water or GCV, specifically many osteoblasts, osteocytes, and chondrocytes at the cartilage-bone interface. Histologically, we observed altered callus composition in Col1-tk mice at 2 and 3 weeks postfracture, with significantly less bone and more fibrous tissue. Col1-tk mice, monitored for 12 weeks with in vivo radiographs and micro–computed tomography (μCT) scans, had delayed bone bridging and reduced callus size. After euthanasia, ex vivo μCT and histology showed failed union with residual bone fragments and fibrous tissue in Col1-tk mice. Biomechanical testing showed a failure to recover torsional strength in Col1-tk mice, in contrast to WT. Our data indicates that suppression of proliferating osteoblast-lineage cells for at least 2 weeks after fracture blunts the formation and remodeling of a mineralized callus leading to a functional nonunion. We propose this as a new murine model of atrophic nonunion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2243-2257
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Bone and Mineral Research
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021




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