Aging diminishes bone formation engendered by mechanical loads, but the mechanism for this impairment remains unclear. Because Wnt signaling is required for optimal loading-induced bone formation, we hypothesized that aging impairs the load-induced activation of Wnt signaling. We analyzed dynamic histomorphometry of 5-month-old, 12-month-old, and 22-month-old C57Bl/6JN mice subjected to multiple days of tibial compression and corroborated an age-related decline in the periosteal loading response on day 5. Similarly, 1 day of loading increased periosteal and endocortical bone formation in young-adult (5-month-old) mice, but old (22-month-old) mice were unresponsive. These findings corroborated mRNA expression of genes related to bone formation and the Wnt pathway in tibias after loading. Multiple bouts (3 to 5 days) of loading upregulated bone formation–related genes, e.g., Osx and Col1a1, but older mice were significantly less responsive. Expression of Wnt negative regulators, Sost and Dkk1, was suppressed with a single day of loading in all mice, but suppression was sustained only in young-adult mice. Moreover, multiple days of loading repeatedly suppressed Sost and Dkk1 in young-adult, but not in old tibias. The age-dependent response to loading was further assessed by osteocyte staining for Sclerostin and LacZ in tibia of TOPGAL mice. After 1 day of loading, fewer osteocytes were Sclerostin-positive and, corroboratively, more osteocytes were LacZ-positive (Wnt active) in both 5-month-old and 12-month-old mice. However, although these changes were sustained after multiple days of loading in 5-month-old mice, they were not sustained in 12-month-old mice. Last, Wnt1 and Wnt7b were the most load-responsive of the 19 Wnt ligands. However, 4 hours after a single bout of loading, although their expression was upregulated threefold to 10-fold in young-adult mice, it was not altered in old mice. In conclusion, the reduced bone formation response of aged mice to loading may be due to failure to sustain Wnt activity with repeated loading.
- WNT/β-CATENIN SIGNALING