Aging bone shows a progressive decline in mass and strength. Previous studies have suggested that bone marrow stem cells are reduced with aging and that this could be responsible, in part, for age-associated bone deficits. We measured the number of osteoprogenitor cells present in the bone marrow from adult and aged rats as well as their ability to differentiate in vitro and to form bone in vivo. We found that the number of adherent colony-forming cells was significantly lower (65%) in marrow cells isolated from aged compared with adult rats. Furthermore, 88% of the colonies obtained from aged rats were alkaline phosphatase (AP) positive, whereas virtually all the colonies from adult rats were positive. The addition of dexamethasone to the culture medium decreased the proliferation of the adherent cells and reduced the number of colonies obtained from both adult and aged bone marrow, all of which were AP positive. No significant differences were found in the expression of certain major bone cell marker genes as a function of donor age. However, dexamethasone treatment increased expression of osteopontin (OP) by fivefold. Adult stromal cells not treated with dexamethasone and implanted subcutaneously in recipient rats exhibited about 10-fold greater formation of bone compared with cells from aged rats. In contrast, dexamethasone-treated cells exhibited high levels of bone formation, which the cells were grafted. These studies are consistent with a deficit of osteoprogenitor cells in the bone marrow site as a contributing, perhaps correctable factor in the decline in bone repair and bone mass with age.
ASJC Scopus subject areas