Although aging is associated with a decline in bone formation in humans, the molecular pathways contributing to this decline remain unclear. Several previous clinical studies have shown that circulating sclerostin levels increase with age, raising the possibility that increased production of sclerostin by osteocytes leads to the age-related impairment in bone formation. Thus, in the present study, we examined circulating sclerostin levels as well as bone mRNA levels of sclerostin using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (QPCR) analyses in needle bone biopsies from young (mean age, 30.0. years) versus old (mean age, 72.9. years) women. In addition, we analyzed the expression of genes in a number of pathways known to be altered with skeletal aging, based largely on studies in mice. While serum sclerostin levels were 46% higher (p. <. 0.01) in the old as compared to the young women, bone sclerostin mRNA levels were no different between the two groups (p. =0.845). However, genes related to notch signaling were significantly upregulated (p. =0.003 when analyzed as a group) in the biopsies from the old women. In an additional analysis of 118 genes including those from genome-wide association studies related to bone density and/or fracture, BMP/TGFβ family genes, selected growth factors and nuclear receptors, and Wnt/Wnt-related genes, we found that mRNA levels of the Wnt inhibitor, SFRP1, were significantly increased (by 1.6-fold, p. =0.0004, false discovery rate [q]. =0.04) in the biopsies from the old as compared to the young women.Our findings thus indicate that despite increases in circulating sclerostin levels, bone sclerostin mRNA levels do not increase in elderly women. However, aging is associated with alterations in several key pathways and genes in humans that may contribute to the observed impairment in bone formation. These include notch signaling, which represents a potential therapeutic target for increasing bone formation in humans. Our studies further identified mRNA levels of SFRP1 as being increased in aging bone in humans, suggesting that this may also represent a viable target for the development of anabolic therapies for age-related bone loss and osteoporosis.
- Bone biopsy