NELL1 promotes high-quality bone regeneration in rat femoral distraction osteogenesis model

Jing Xue, Jiang Peng, Mei Yuan, Aiyuan Wang, Li Zhang, Shuyun Liu, Meng Fan, Yu Wang, Wenjing Xu, Kang Ting, Xinli Zhang, Shibi Lu
Bone 2011 March 1, 48 (3): 485-95
NELL1 (NEL-like molecule-1; NEL [a protein strongly expressed in neural tissue encoding epidermal growth factor like domain]) is a cranisynostosis-associated molecule directly regulated by Runx2, the master molecule in controlling osteoblastic differentiation. NELL1 has exhibited potent osteoinductive activity for bone regeneration in several animal models. However, its capacity for promoting repair of long-bone defects remains unknown. In this study, we investigated the osteogenic effects of NELL1 on femoral distraction osteogenesis using adenoviral gene delivery and multiple approaches of in vivo analysis. Thirty Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats were randomly assigned to 3 groups for treatment (n=10 each): adenovirus-green fluorescent protein (Ad-GFP)-NELL1 or Ad-GFP at 1×10⁹ plaque-forming units/ml diluted in saline, or saline alone. The femoral distraction was at a speed of 0.25 mm every 12h for 14 days, and a single injection of Ad-GFP-NELL1 or Ad-GFP was given at the mid-distraction period. The effective NELL1 delivery in vivo after Ad-GFP-NELL1 injection was evaluated by optical imaging. The bone regeneration was assessed quantitatively at days 21, 28, 42, and 56 by live 3-D micro-computed tomography (micro-CT), and animals were sacrificed at day 56 for biomechanical testing and histological analysis. Exogenous NELL1 was expressed in the distracted gap for at least 14 days after Ad-GFP-NELL1 transfection. The bone union rate in the distracted gap was significantly higher with Ad-GFP-NELL1 than with Ad-GFP (9/9 vs. 4/9 rats) or saline alone (5/9 rats) at day 56. The serial 3-D micro-CT images and quantitation obtained with the development and application of radiolucent external fixators showed less callus but more mature cortical bones formed with Ad-GFP-NELL1 than with Ad-GFP transfection and saline administration during distraction osteogenesis. The biomechanical properties of femur samples with Ad-GFP-NELL1 transfection were better than samples with Ad-GFP transfection or saline treatment, and were similar with unoperated femurs. Histology revealed cartilaginous tissues in the middle of distraction gaps with Ad-GFP transfection and saline treatment but only bony bridges with Ad-GFP-NELL1 transfection at the final time point (day 56). Coincidently, the expression of Runx2, BMP2, and BMP7 did not differ among groups at day 56, whereas the expression of osteocalcin and osteopontin was slightly higher with Ad-GFP-NELL1 transfection. Thus, sustained Ad-NELL1 protein delivery into a local area of a rat femoral distraction osteogenesis model remarkably improved regeneration of good-quality bones and accelerated bone union at a high rate. Acquiring serial micro-CT data during rat femoral distraction osteogenesis and regional adenovirus delivery of NELL1 may facilitate future in vivo studies.

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