Mechanical Loading Promotes the Expansion of Primitive Osteoprogenitors and Organizes Matrix and Vascular Morphology in Long Bone Defects

Chao Liu, Pamela Cabahug-Zuckerman, Christopher Stubbs, Martin Pendola, Cinyee Cai, Kenneth A. Mann, Alesha B. Castillo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Elucidating the effects of mechanical stimulation on bone repair is crucial for optimization of the healing process. Specifically, the regulatory role that mechanical loading exerts on the osteogenic stem cell pool and vascular morphology during healing is incompletely understood. Because dynamic loading has been shown to enhance osteogenesis and repair, we hypothesized that loading induces the expansion of the osteoprogenitor cell population within a healing bone defect, leading to an increased presence of osteogenic cells. We further hypothesized that loading during the repair process regulates vascular and collagen matrix morphology and spatial interactions between vessels and osteogenic cells. To address these hypotheses, we used a mechanobiological bone repair model, which produces a consistent and reproducible intramembranous repair response confined in time and space. Bilateral tibial defects were created in adult C57BL/6 mice, which were subjected to axial compressive dynamic loading either during the early cellular invasion phase on postsurgical days (PSDs) 2 to 5 or during the matrix deposition phase on PSD 5 to 8. Confocal and two-photon microscopy was used to generate high-resolution three-dimensional (3D) renderings of longitudinal thick sections of the defect on PSD 10. Endomucin (EMCN)-positive vessels, Paired related homeobox 1 (Prrx1+) stem cell antigen-1 positive (Sca-1+) primitive osteoprogenitors (OPCs), and osterix positive (Osx+) preosteoblasts were visualized and quantified using deep tissue immunohistochemistry. New bone matrix was visualized with second harmonic generation autofluorescence of collagen fibers. We found that mechanical loading during the matrix deposition phase (PSD 5 to 8) increased vessel volume and number, and aligned vessels and collagen fibers to the load-bearing direction of bone. Furthermore, loading led to a significant increase in the proliferation and number of Prrx1+ Sca-1+ primitive OPCs, but not Osx+ preosteoblasts within the defect. Together, these data illustrate the adaptation of both collagen matrix and vascular morphology to better withstand mechanical load during bone repair, and that the mechanoresponsive cell population consists of the primitive osteogenic progenitors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)896-910
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Bone and Mineral Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019



ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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