Research Article: Soluble activin type IIB receptor improves fracture healing in a closed tibial fracture mouse model

Date Published: July 13, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Tero Puolakkainen, Petri Rummukainen, Jemina Lehto, Olli Ritvos, Ari Hiltunen, Anna-Marja Säämänen, Riku Kiviranta, Bart O. Williams.


Fractures still present a significant burden to patients due to pain and periods of unproductivity. Numerous growth factors have been identified to regulate bone remodeling. However, to date, only the bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) are used to enhance fracture healing in clinical settings. Activins are pleiotropic growth factors belonging to the TGF-β superfamily. We and others have recently shown that treatment with recombinant fusion proteins of activin receptors greatly increases bone mass in different animal models by trapping activins and other ligands thus inhibiting their signaling pathways. However, their effects on fracture healing are less known. Twelve-week old male C57Bl mice were subjected to a standardized, closed tibial fracture model. Animals were divided into control and treatment groups and were administered either PBS control or a soluble activin type IIB receptor (ActRIIB-Fc) intraperitoneally once a week for a duration of two or four weeks. There were no significant differences between the groups at two weeks but we observed a significant increase in callus mineralization in ActRIIB-Fc-treated animals by microcomputed tomography imaging at four weeks. Bone volume per tissue volume was 60%, trabecular number 55% and bone mineral density 60% higher in the 4-week calluses of the ActRIIB-Fc-treated mice (p<0.05 in all). Biomechanical strength of 4-week calluses was also significantly improved by ActRIIB-Fc treatment as stiffness increased by 64% and maximum force by 45% (p<0.05) compared to the PBS-injected controls. These results demonstrate that ActRIIB-Fc treatment significantly improves healing of closed long bone fractures. Our findings support the previous reports of activin receptors increasing bone mass but also demonstrate a novel approach for using ActRIIB-Fc to enhance fracture healing.

Partial Text

Fracture healing is a complex process consisting of multiple events, which happen both simultaneously and in succession, aiming to restore the initial form and function of the fractured bone. This process is strictly regulated by numerous different cytokines, growth factors, proteases and angiogenic factors [1–3]. Recent advances in this research field have also highlighted the importance of muscle-bone cross-talk in the formation of new bone during fracture healing [4].

The physiological changes associated with aging predispose older patients to musculoskeletal pathologies such as postmenopausal osteoporosis and frailty. Both of these conditions are risk factors for bone fractures. The optimal treatment approach would thus maintain or improve bone mass while enhancing/maintaining muscle mass and strength. The use of activin type II receptors as recombinant fusion proteins have already been shown to increase bone and muscle mass in different animal models but their effects on bone fracture healing are less well known. In this study we evaluated the effects of ActRIIB-Fc on fracture healing in a closed, diaphyseal tibial fracture mouse model. As we hypothesized, ActRIIB-Fc treatment improved fracture healing after four weeks of treatment when compared to PBS-treated controls. Both μCT and histological analyses at the four-week time point demonstrated increased amount trabecular bone in the calluses of ActRIIB-Fc-treated mice compared to control groups. This translated into improved biomechanical properties, as callus stiffness and strength were also increased by ActRIIB-Fc treatment. Our data indicate that these positive effects of ActRIIB-Fc were likely due to enhanced osteoblast differentiation and function and suppressed bone resorption in the fracture callus. Therefore, our results suggest that ActRIIB-Fc could be used as a novel approach to augment fracture healing.




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