Long term human marrow cultures form multinucleated cells (MNC) which express the osteoclast phenotype. Mononuclear precursors for these MNC can be identified and highly enriched. We tested early (bipotent) and late (unipotent) precursors of these MNC for expression of several osteoclast differentiation markers: 1) the osteoclast vitronectin receptor, identified by the 23c6 monoclonal antibody, 2) the vacuolar-type proton pump, identified by the Ell monoclonal antibody, and 3) the calcitonin (CT) receptor, by autoradiography with125labeled salmon calcitonin. We wished to determine if the proton pump was expressed in cells in long term marrow cultures and if its expression correlated with expression of the CT receptor and the vitronectin receptor. About 30% of early precursor cells reacted with the 23c6 monoclonal antibody, but none expressed CT receptors or showed amplified proton pump expression. The CT receptor and amplified proton pump expression were detected first on the late precursor, a stage in which every cell reacted strongly with the 23c6 monoclonal antibody. Over 80% of MNC formed from these late precursors expressed abundant CT receptors, and all MNC expressed the vitronectin receptor and showed amplified proton pump expression. In contrast, macrophage polykaryons and mononuclear macrophages formed in vitro failed to express the osteoclast vitronectin and CT receptors and expressed the proton pump at levels indistinguishable from those of surrounding cells.
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