Physiological Reviews

Nuclear Receptors in Bone Physiology and Diseases

Yuuki Imai, Min-Young Youn, Kazuki Inoue, Ichiro Takada, Alexander Kouzmenko, Shigeaki Kato


During the last decade, our view on the skeleton as a mere solid physical support structure has been transformed, as bone emerged as a dynamic, constantly remodeling tissue with systemic regulatory functions including those of an endocrine organ. Reflecting this remarkable functional complexity, distinct classes of humoral and intracellular regulatory factors have been shown to control vital processes in the bone. Among these regulators, nuclear receptors (NRs) play fundamental roles in bone development, growth, and maintenance. NRs are DNA-binding transcription factors that act as intracellular transducers of the respective ligand signaling pathways through modulation of expression of specific sets of cognate target genes. Aberrant NR signaling caused by receptor or ligand deficiency may profoundly affect bone health and compromise skeletal functions. Ligand dependency of NR action underlies a major strategy of therapeutic intervention to correct aberrant NR signaling, and significant efforts have been made to design novel synthetic NR ligands with enhanced beneficial properties and reduced potential negative side effects. As an example, estrogen deficiency causes bone loss and leads to development of osteoporosis, the most prevalent skeletal disorder in postmenopausal women. Since administration of natural estrogens for the treatment of osteoporosis often associates with undesirable side effects, several synthetic estrogen receptor ligands have been developed with higher therapeutic efficacy and specificity. This review presents current progress in our understanding of the roles of various nuclear receptor-mediated signaling pathways in bone physiology and disease, and in development of advanced NR ligands for treatment of common skeletal disorders.

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