Although Bushenhuoxue formula (BSHXF) is successfully used as a non-traumatic therapy in treating bone fracture in China, the molecular mechanism underlying its effects remains poorly understood.
The present study aims to explore the therapeutic effects of BSHXF on fracture healing in mice and the underlying mechanism.
We performed unilateral open transverse tibial fracture procedure in C57BL/6 mice which were treated with or without BSHXF. Fracture callus tissues were collected and analyzed by X-ray, micro-CT, biomechanical testing, histopathology and quantitative gene expression analysis. Tibial fracture procedure was also performed in Cre-negative and Gli1-CreER; Tgfbr2flox/flox conditional knockout (KO) mice (Tgfbr2) to determine if BSHXF enhances fracture healing in a TGF-β-dependent manner. In addition, scratch-wound assay and cell counting kit-8 (CCK-8) assay were used to evaluate the effect of BSHXF on cell migration and cell proliferation in C3H10T1/2 mesenchymal stem cells, respectively.
BSHXF promoted endochondral ossification and enhanced bone strength in wild-type (WT) or Cre- control mice. In contrast, BSHXF failed to promote bone fracture healing in Tgfbr2 conditional KO mice. In the mice receiving BSHXF treatment, TGF-β/Smad2 signaling was significantly activated. Moreover, BSHXF enhanced cell migration and cell proliferation in C3H10T1/2 cells, which was strongly attenuated by the small molecule inhibitor SB525334 against TGF-β type I receptor.
These data demonstrated that BSHXF promotes fracture healing by activating TGF-β/Smad2 signaling. BSHXF may be used as a type of alternative medicine for the treatment of bone fracture healing.

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