2004 Volume 80 Issue 9 Pages 407-421
Vitamin D was discovered as an anti-rachitic agent, but even at present, there is no direct evidence to support the concept that vitamin D directly stimulates osteoblastic bone formation and mineralization. It appears to be paradoxical, but vitamin D functions in the process of osteoclastic bone resorption. Osteoclasts, the only cells responsible for bone resorption, develop from hematopoietic cells of the monocyte-macrophage lineage. In 1992, we hypothesized that a membrane-bound factor, designated as "osteoclast differentiation factor (ODF)", is expressed on the plasma membrane of osteoblasts/stromal cells in response to osteotropic factors including the active form of vitamin D3, 1α,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 [1α,25(OH)2D3]. Recently, four research groups including ours independently identified three key molecules (RANKL, RANK, and OPG) responsible for osteoclastogenesis. A long-sought-after ligand, ODF, was identical to RANKL. RANKL was a member of the membrane-associated TNF ligand family, which induced differentiation of spleen cells (osteoclast progenitors) into osteoclasts in the presence of M-CSF. RANK, a member of the TNF receptor family, was a signaling receptor essential for the RANKL-mediated osteoclastogenesis. OPG, a secreted member of the TNF receptor family, was a decoy receptor for RANKL. The discovery of RANKL, RANK and OPG opens a new era in the study of bone biology and the therapy of several metabolic bone diseases such as osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and periodontal diseases.
(Communicated by Tadamitsu KISHIMOTO, M.J.A.)