Inhibiting osteoclasts and osteoclast precursors to reduce bone resorption is an important strategy to treat osteoclast-related diseases, such as osteoporosis, inflammatory bone loss, and malignant bone metastasis. However, the mechanism by which apoptosis is induced in the osteoclasts and their precursors are not completely understood. Here, we used nitrogen-containing bisphosphonate zoledronic acid (ZA) to induce cell apoptosis in human and murine osteoclast precursors and mature osteoclast-like cells. Caspase-3-mediated cell apoptosis occurred following the ZA (100 μM) treatment. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) were also generated in a time-dependent manner. Following knock-down of the p47 phox expression, which is required for ROS activation, or co-treatment with the ROS inhibitor, N-acetyl-L-cysteine, ZA-induced apoptosis was significantly suppressed in both osteoclast precursors and mature osteoclast-like cells. The ROS-activated mitogen-activated protein kinases pathways did not trigger cell apoptosis. However, a ROS-regulated Mcl-1 decrease simultaneously with glycogen synthase kinase (GSK)-3β promoted cell apoptosis. These findings show that ZA induces apoptosis in osteoclast precursors and mature osteoclast-like cells by triggering ROS- and GSK-3β-mediated Mcl-1 down-regulation.
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