We isolated cells from both calvaria and the outer cortices of long bones from 3- to 5-mo bovine fetuses. The cells were identified as functional osteoblasts by indirect immunofluorescence using antibodies against three bone-specific, noncollagenous matrix proteins (osteonectin, the bone proteoglycan, and the bone sialoprotein) and against type 1 collagen. In separate experiments, confluent cultures of the cells were radiolabeled and shown to synthesize and secrete osteonectin, the bone proteoglycan and the bone sialoprotein by immunoprecipitation and fluorography of SDS polyacrylamide gels. Analysis of the radiolabeled collagens synthesized by the cultures showed that they produced predominantly (approximately 94%) type I collagen, with small amounts of types III and V collagens. In agreement with previous investigators who have employed the rodent bone cell system, we confirmed in bovine bone cells that (a) there was a typical cyclic AMP response to parathyroid hormone, (b) freshly isolated cells possessed high levels of alkaline phosphatase, which diminished during culture but returned to normal levels in mineralizing cultures, and (c) cells grown in the presence of ascorbic acid and beta-glycerophosphate rapidly produced and mineralized an extracellular matrix containing largely type I collagen. These results show that antibodies directed against bone-specific, noncollagenous proteins can be used to clearly identify bone cells in vitro.

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