Bone resorption by osteoclasts is coupled with bone formation by osteoblasts,
and this balanced process continuously remodels and adapts the skeleton. The
receptor activator of nuclear factor κB ligand (RANKL) has been identified
as an essential cytokine for the formation and activation of osteoclasts.
The effects of RANKL are physiologically counterbalanced by the decoy receptor
osteoprotegerin (OPG). Estrogen deficiency, glucocorticoid exposure, T-cell
activation (eg, rheumatoid arthritis), and skeletal malignancies (eg, myeloma,
metastases) enhance the ratio of RANKL to OPG and, thus, promote osteoclastogenesis,
accelerate bone resorption, and induce bone loss. Moreover, alterations of
the OPG/RANKL/RANK system have been implicated in vascular diseases. RANKL
blockade (using OPG or RANK fusion proteins or RANKL antibodies) has prevented
bone loss caused by osteoporosis, chronic inflammatory disorders, and malignant
tumors in animal models and may emerge as a therapy in humans based on studies
in postmenopausal osteoporosis, myeloma bone disease, and osteolytic metastases.
This review summarizes the clinical implications of the OPG/RANKL/RANK system
for bone and vascular diseases.