There are conflicting data on whether age reduces the response of the skeleton to mechanical stimuli. We examined this question in female BALB/c mice of different ages, ranging from young to middle-aged (2, 4, 7, 12 months). We first assessed markers of bone turnover in control (non-loaded) mice. Serum osteocalcin and CTX declined significantly from 2 to 4 months (p<0.001). There were similar age-related declines in tibial mRNA expression of osteoblast- and osteoclast-related genes, most notably in late osteoblast/matrix genes. For example, Col1a1 expression declined 90% from 2 to 7 months (p<0.001). We then assessed tibial responses to mechanical loading using age-specific forces to produce similar peak strains (-1300 με endocortical; -2350 με periosteal). Axial tibial compression was applied to the right leg for 60 cycles/day on alternate days for 1 or 6 weeks. qPCR after 1 week revealed no effect of loading in young (2-month) mice, but significant increases in osteoblast/matrix genes in older mice. For example, in 12-month old mice Col1a1 was increased 6-fold in loaded tibias vs. controls (p = 0.001). In vivo microCT after 6 weeks revealed that loaded tibias in each age group had greater cortical bone volume (BV) than contralateral control tibias (p<0.05), due to relative periosteal expansion. The loading-induced increase in cortical BV was greatest in 4-month old mice (+13%; p<0.05 vs. other ages). In summary, non-loaded female BALB/c mice exhibit an age-related decline in measures related to bone formation. Yet when subjected to tibial compression, mice from 2-12 months have an increase in cortical bone volume. Older mice respond with an upregulation of osteoblast/matrix genes, which increase to levels comparable to young mice. We conclude that mechanical loading of the tibia is anabolic for cortical bone in young and middle-aged female BALB/c mice.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere34980
JournalPloS one
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 13 2012


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