Types of Bone Cells

types of bone cells
Source: Wikimedia

Types of Bone Cells: The bones are a core founding component of a living body that holds the structure of muscles and organs. The bones of the skeletal system are composed of two types of tissues, i.e., compact and spongy bone tissue.

The Compact bone tissue covers the outer part of the bone structure and provides toughness and strength to the structure of bone.

The Spongy bone tissue is present inside the compact bone tissue. It is pretty soft and helps for compression that might occur as a result to stress on the bone.

Types of Bone Cells

Both the compact and spongy bone tissues are composed of 3 main types of bone cells. These bone cells have distinct features, structure, and considered essential functions. These bone cells are Osteoclasts, Osteoblasts, and Osteocytes.

These bone cells are embedded in the matrix of bony tissue and perform many vital functions.

From hormones production to the provision of mechanical strength, the bone cells possess miraculous properties and functions fundamental to the normal bone functioning.

This article gives an overview of the fundamental properties of the bone cells along with some essential functions.


History of Osteoclasts

Albert von Kolliker
Albert von Kolliker (Source: Wikimedia)

Osteoclasts are distinct bone cells doing bone demolishing work. They were discovered in 1873 by Albert von Kolliker.

  • The resorption properties of osteoclasts, inside the bony tissue, were established in the early days of their discovery.
  • During the recent years, usage of the electron microscope and other technological advancements have help in comprehending the behavior of osteoclasts, in both healthy and diseased conditions.
  • Osteoclasts consist of diverse ultrastructure and multiple nuclei. These features led the discoverers to study osteoclast extensively, under light and electron microscope.
  • Osteoclasts showed completely different behavior as compared to other types of bone cells.

Structure of Osteoclasts

The occurrence of osteoclasts is quite scarce in the bony tissue.

  • It is estimated that in an area of 1mm of the bony tissue, almost 2 to 3 osteoclasts are found.
  • The structure of osteoclasts is related to their function. As osteoclasts have the fate of absorbing bone, they are giant bone cells with specialized membrane structures, ruffled borders and clear zones helping them in function of bone resorption.
  • Osteoclasts originate from liver and spleen as hematopoietic stem cells.
  • After their release, osteoclast travels through the bloodstream to reach out cells at the place of resorption.

At the time of their arrival at resorption site, osteoclasts are composed of just one nucleus.

At the time of their early life, osteoclasts are closely related to other cells regarding origin such as macrophages, monocytes, and granulocytes.

These all cells are components of granulocyte macrophage colony forming a unit (GM-CFU).

Numerous researches and studies have been conducted, in order to understand the structure of osteoclasts and their relationship with other closely related cells.

Function of Osteoclasts

The functions played by osteoclasts are incredibly crucial to the normal functioning of the bone.

  • Osteoclasts regulate the homeostasis of the bone.
  • If the number of osteoclasts gets lowered inside the bony tissue or they are not adequately developed, the bone dysfunctioning called Osteopetrosis develops.
  • On the other hand, when osteoclasts are present in increased numbers than required, the bone problem of Osteoporosis may develop. Therefore, the number and amount of osteoclasts in the bone controls the bone structural integrity .
  • Osteoclast resorbs bones by creating sealed compartments adjacent to the bone surface. Then, osteoclasts secrete acid phosphatases. These enzymes are acidic that functions to degrade the bone. The resulting edge and depression on the bone formed by the action of these enzymes are termed as “ruffled border“.
  • At the site of ruffled borders, osteoclasts are acted upon by carbonic anhydrase enzyme, and hydrogen ions are released, as result of chemical reaction between CO2 and H2O.
  • The resultant products of the reaction create an acidic environment at the site of ruffled borders and help in dissolving the bone, as shown in the equation: CO2 + H2O → H+ + HCO3-. The dissolved bone is converted as a matrix of calcium.


History of Osteoblasts

Harold M.Frost Jr.
Harold M.Frost Jr. (Source: Northwestern University)

Osteoblasts are the bone cells with relatively different structure than other bone cells.

  • They are short-lived cells. In the late 1950s, Harold M.Frost was involved in extensively studying the properties and behavior of osteoblasts.
  • Frost discovered the collaborative nature of osteoblasts to work with osteoclasts, in the formation of the bone matrix.
  • He added through various experimentations that osteoblasts strengthen the integrity of the bony tissue.
  • Osteoblasts are also derived from bone marrow precursor cells (mesenchymal stem cells MSC). Osteogenic cells are undifferentiated and develop into Osteoblasts.

Structure of Osteoblasts

Osteoblasts are the bone cells possessing cuboidal and columnar shapes.

  • They possess a central nucleus which is found on the surface of the bone, i.e. present in old compact part of the bone.
  • It is reported that osteoblast compromise about 6% of total bone cells.
  • Osteoblasts are made from mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) along with muscle cells (myocytes) and fat cells (adipocytes).
  • Osteoblasts work together in the form of clusters and perform their function of building up the bone.
  • Once the cluster of osteoblasts finishes its work, the shape of osteoblasts gets flattened.
  • At this stage, they are referred to as inactive osteoblasts. When osteoblasts become inactive, they transport towards the outer surface of the bone and settle along the line.
  • This phenomenon gives osteoblasts a specific name of lining cells.

Following image represents the histological view of osteoblast, after staining:

Osteoblast bone cells have some of the morphological features that have close resemblance with protein synthesizing cells.

Protein synthesizing cells are characterized by the presence of prominent Golgi complex, rough endoplasmic reticulum along with many resembling secretory vesicles.

Function of Osteoblasts

Osteoblasts majorly perform two varieties of functions, within the bone tissue.

Firstly, osteoblasts release multiple proteins essential to the formation of the bony structure matrix.

Secondly, osteoblasts help in regulating the mineralization of bone. Some of the primary functions of osteoblasts are mentioned below:

  • Osteoblasts have special receptors for hormones such as estrogen, parathyroid hormone (PTH) and vitamin D.
  • Osteoblasts secrete important factors that activate osteoclasts, i.e. RANK ligand and other associated factors which communicate with other cells.
  • Osteoblasts also secrete a regulatory protein that is involved in the regulation of phosphate excretion from the kidneys.
  • After osteoblasts have finished the making up of new bone, some of them will differentiate into osteocytes and rest of them will surround the matrix of the bone. Some of them, if remained, will either stay on the surface of the new bone or mature into lining cells.
  • Lining cells are involved in the transport of calcium from inside and outside of the bone.
  • Non-useful osteoblasts undergo the programmed cell suicide process (apoptosis) and will get disintegrated.


History of Osteocytes

Osteocytes are the most abundant and long-lived bone cells with speculation of living for about 25 years.

  • During the 1950s, Gordan and Ham extensively studied osteocytes. In prior days of osteocyte discovery, it was thought that osteocytes are dormant cells and do not perform any function.
  • With the passage of time and advancement in technology, methods such as isolation culturing of bone cells, the formation of phenotypically stable cell lines and new animal models led to better understanding of osteocytes.

Structure of Osteocytes

Osteocytes are located inside the bone and have a connection with each other and with other cells with the help of their long branches.

  • Osteocytes are at the perfect position to sense any pressure or mechanical strain in the bone. It is estimated that osteocytes comprise about 95% of the total of cells of the bone.
  • Osteocytes are located in lacunae within the mineralized bone matrix. They possess a dendritic morphology.
  • It was also observed that osteocyte might differ in morphology from one another, by the bone type in which they are present.
  • Osteocytes with round shapes are present in the trabecular bones, and elongated osteocytes are present in the cortical bone.

Osteocytes are derived from mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) lineage through the differentiation of osteoblasts. In this process, four stages have been proposed or recognized:

  1. Osteoid-osteocyte
  2. Pre-osteocyte
  3. Young osteocyte
  4. Mature osteocyte

The process of osteoblast differentiation is a tedious process involving many morphological and ultra-structural changes.

The most significant change is the reduction in the size of osteoblasts. The number of many major organelles decrease, but the size of the nucleus increases corresponding to the decrease in secretion and synthesis of proteins.

Function of Osteocytes

Initially, osteocytes were defined according to their morphology rather than their function. This was because their function remained unknown for decades. Later, it was recognized that they play many different yet important roles in bone development and maintenance.

Osteocytes perform different functions such as:

  • Osteocytes have a feature of secreted growth factors which can activate cells lining them or can stimulate osteoblasts.
  • The shape and arrangement of osteocytes help in the mechanical functioning of bones. The sensing ability and signal transportation characteristics also play a crucial role in this particular function. This phenomenon of osteocyte mechanical endurance occurs through piezoelectric effect.
  • The functional bone adaptation is regulated by the osteocytes.
  • The exchange of ions across the bone occurs with the help of osteocytes.

General Functions of Bone Cells

functions of bone cells

The bone cells perform diverse functions inside the human body. Some of the main functions of the bone cells are listed below:

  • Osteoclasts are involved in the maintenance of the ruffled borders in the bones.
  • Formation of bone marrow occurs with the help of osteoclasts.
  • Osteoclasts work under the influence of parathyroid hormone (PTH) to dissolve the bone.
  • Osteoclasts produce factors known as “clastokines“, which influence the working of osteoblasts.
  • Osteoclasts are also involved in the regulation of hematopoietic stem cell niche.
  • Osteoblasts are involved in the formation of unmineralized osteoid part of the bone.
  • Osteoblasts secrete enzymes known as alkaline phosphatase that create an acidic environment within their vicinity.
  • Osteoblasts also produce hormones like prostaglandins that are fatty in nature.
  • Osteoblasts have a role in the production of collagenous and non-collagenous proteins of the bone.
  • Lining cells of bones help in regulating the influx and the efflux of calcium ions from the bone.
  • Lining cells also regulate the bone fluid via regulation of mineral homeostasis.
  • Lining cells help in the activation of osteoclasts indirectly.
  • Osteocytes help in the bone turnover process and limiting the dissolution of the bone.
  • The bone adaptation function is performed by osteocytes coordinating the bone mechanical strength with the surrounding environment.
  • Osteocytes play a crucial role in calcium homeostasis.
  • Osteocytes help in the maintenance of bone matrix.
  • Osteocytes have a role in sensing pressure or crack of the bone and signaling other parts of the bone.
  • Upon mechanical stimulations, osteocytes produce secondary messengers such as adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

Despite the medical and technological advancements, the full functioning of the bone cells is yet to be elucidated.

The crucial aspect of the bone cells functioning would be to understand how the vast array of functions performed by bone cells can be used in the management of advanced bone dysfunctioning?

Recent scientific advancements and stem cells culturing techniques provide a beacon of light to unveil the hidden secrets of the miraculous bone cells.

Cite This Page

BioExplorer.net. (2022, August 17). Types of Bone Cells. Bio Explorer. https://www.bioexplorer.net/types-of-bone-cells.html/.
BioExplorer.net. "Types of Bone Cells" Bio Explorer, 17 August 2022, https://www.bioexplorer.net/types-of-bone-cells.html/.
BioExplorer.net. "Types of Bone Cells" Bio Explorer, August 17 2022. https://www.bioexplorer.net/types-of-bone-cells.html/.


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