Involvement of human endogenous retroviral syncytin-1 in human osteoclast fusion

Kent Søe, Thomas Levin Andersen, Anne-Sofie Hobolt-Pedersen, Bolette Bjerregaard, Lars-Inge Larsson, Jean-Marie Delaissé

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Generation of osteoclasts through fusion of mono-nucleated precursors is a key event of bone physiology and bone resorption is inefficient without osteoclast fusion. Several factors playing a critical role in the fusion process have already been recognized, but the factors involved in the actual fusion of the lipid bilayers of their cell membranes are still unknown. Syncytin-1 is a protein encoded by a human endogenous retroviral gene which was stably integrated into the human ancestor genome more than 24 million years ago. Upon activation, syncytin-1 is able to destabilize the lipid bilayer of the target cell and to force the merging of plasma membranes. This protein is a key player in the fusion of cytotrophoblasts. In the present study, syncytin-1 as well as its putative receptor ASCT2 was found to be expressed in differentiating osteoclasts in vitro, both on mRNA and protein level. This was documented through Q-PCR, Western blot and immunofluorescence analyses. These in vitro findings were confirmed by immunohistochemical stainings in human iliac crest biopsies. A syncytin-1 inhibitory peptide reduced the number of nuclei per osteoclast by 30%, as well as TRACP activity. From a mechanistic point of view, it is interesting that the distribution of syncytin-1 immunoreactivity on the cell surface parallels that of actin, another important player in cell fusion, and that cell-cell proximity induces particular patterns of distribution of syncytin-1 and actin in the respective cells. These complementary observations support a critical role of syncytin-1 in osteoclast fusion, which is of special interest in view of its well-known ability to force the merging of plasma membranes.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)837-46
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 1. Apr 2011

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