- silica nanoparticles
- osteoblast differentiation
We recently identified an engineered bioactive silica-based nanoparticle formulation (designated herein as NP1) that stimulates in vitro differentiation and mineralization of osteoblasts, the cells responsible for bone formation, and increases bone mineral density in young mice in vivo. The results demonstrate that these nanoparticles have intrinsic biological activity; however, the intracellular fate and a complete understanding of the mechanism(s) involved remains to be elucidated. Here we investigated the cellular mechanism(s) by which NP1 stimulates differentiation and mineralization of osteoblasts. We show that NP1 enters the cells through a caveolae-mediated endocytosis followed by stimulation of the mitogen activated protein kinase ERK1/2 (p44/p42). Our findings further revealed that NP1 stimulates autophagy including the processing of LC3β-I to LC3β-II, a key protein involved in autophagosome formation, which is dependent on ERK1/2 signaling. Using a variant of NP1 with cobalt ferrite magnetic metal core (NP1-MNP) to pull down associated proteins, we found direct binding of LC3β and p62, two key proteins involved in autophagosome formation, with silica nanoparticles. Interestingly, NP1 specifically interacts with the active and autophagosome associated form of LC3β (LC3β-II). Taken together, the stimulation of autophagy and associated signaling suggests a cellular mechanism for the stimulatory effects of silica nanoparticles on osteoblast differentiation and mineralization.