Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Engineering (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Biomedical Engineering


Seth W Donahue


Disuse osteoporosis is a condition in which reduced mechanical loading (e.g. bed-rest, immobilization, or paralysis) results in unbalanced bone turnover. The American black bear is a unique, naturally occurring model for the prevention of disuse osteoporosis. Bears remain mostly inactive for up to half a year of hibernation annually, yet they do not lose bone mechanical strength or structural properties throughout hibernation. The long-term goal of this study is to determine the biological mechanism through which bears maintain bone during hibernation. This mechanism could pinpoint new signaling pathway targets for the development of drugs for osteoporosis prevention. In this study, bone specific alkaline phosphatase (BSALP), a marker of osteoblast activity, and tartrate resistant acid phosphatase (TRACP), a marker of osteoclast number, were quantified in the serum of hibernating and active black bears. BSALP and TRACP decreased during hibernation, suggesting a balanced reduction in bone turnover. This decrease in BSALP and TRACP were correlated positively to serum adiponectin and inversely to serum neuropeptide Y, suggesting a possible role of these hormones in suppressing bone turnover during hibernation. Osteocalcin (OCN) and undercarboxylated OCN increased dramatically in the serum of hibernating bears. These increases were inversely correlated with adiponectin, glucose, and serotonin, suggesting that OCN may have a unique role in energy homeostasis during hibernation. Finally, MC3T3-E1 osteoblasts were cultured in the serum from active and hibernating bears, and seasonal cell responses were quantified. Cells cultured in serum from hibernating bears had a reduced caspase-3/7 response, and more living cells, after apoptotic threat. The caspase-3/7 response was positively correlated to serum adiponectin and to gene expression of OCN and Runx2, suggesting that reduced caspase-3/7 activity may be related to the reduced differentiation potential of osteoblasts in hibernation serum, and that adiponectin is a potential effector hormone. In summary, the activities of osteoblasts and osteoclasts are reduced during hibernation in bears. This reduced turnover is due, in part, to hormonal control. Further study of potential effectors adiponectin and neuropeptide Y may provide insight into the biological mechanism through which bears maintain bone throughout hibernation.