Postmenopausal osteoporosis is very common in women. Currently, many kinds of new drugs are being developed for this disease. Postmenopausal osteoporosis is closely related to overactivity of osteoclasts in body. Shikonin is purple red naphthoquinone pigment extracted from lithospermum, which has anti-inflammation, antivirus, anticancer and other bioactivities. At the same time, it has been proved that shikonin can promote the proliferation and differentiation of osteoblasts, but its influence on osteoclasts and molecular mechanism are unknown. Our study showed that shikonin could inhibit the activity and formation of RANKL-mediated osteoclasts depending on dose without affecting the activity of bone marrow macrophages (BMM). In addition, we have also found that shikonin can inhibit the expression of specific marker gene of osteoclasts, including nuclear factor of activated T cells cytoplasmic 1 (NFATc1), cathepsin K (Ctsk), tartrate resistant acid phosphatase (TRAcP) and calcitonin receptor. Shikonin also could promote the proliferation of MC3T3-E1, increasing the expression of mRNA related to osteogenesis, like the expression of bone morphogenetic protein-2 (BMP-2), alkaline phosphatase (ALP), runt-related transcription factor 2 (Runx2) and osteocalcin (OCN). Luciferase reporter gene assay and Western blot analysis further indicated that shikonin could inhibit the activity of RANKL-induced NF-κB and NFAT receptors. Moreover, shikonin can also slow down bone loss of ovariectomized (OVX) mice by inhibiting the activity of osteoclasts. This work explains the molecular mechanism of shikonin in RANKL-mediated formation of osteoclasts, and reveals the potential of further developing shikonin into a new drug for prevention and treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis.
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