Osteocytes as a record of bone formation dynamics: a mathematical model of osteocyte generation in bone matrix

Pascal Buenzli

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17 Citations (Scopus)


The formation of new bone involves both the deposition of bone matrix, and the formation of a network of cells embedded within the bone matrix, called osteocytes. Osteocytes derive from bone-synthesising cells (osteoblasts) that become buried in bone matrix during bone deposition. The generation of osteocytes is a complex process that remains incompletely understood. Whilst osteoblast burial determines the density of osteocytes, the expanding network of osteocytes regulates in turn osteoblast activity and osteoblast burial. In this paper, a spatiotemporal continuous model is proposed to investigate the osteoblast-to-osteocyte transition. The aims of the model are (i) to link dynamic properties of osteocyte generation with properties of the osteocyte network imprinted in bone, and (ii) to investigate Marotti׳s hypothesis that osteocytes prompt the burial of osteoblasts when they become covered with sufficient bone matrix. Osteocyte density is assumed in the model to be generated at the moving bone surface by a combination of osteoblast density, matrix secretory rate, rate of entrapment, and curvature of the bone substrate, but is found to be determined solely by the ratio of the instantaneous burial rate and matrix secretory rate. Osteocyte density does not explicitly depend on osteoblast density nor curvature. Osteocyte apoptosis is also included to distinguish between the density of osteocyte lacuna and the density of live osteocytes. Experimental measurements of osteocyte lacuna densities are used to estimate the rate of burial of osteoblasts in bone matrix. These results suggest that: (i) burial rate decreases during osteonal infilling, and (ii) the control of osteoblast burial by osteocytes is likely to emanate as a collective signal from a large group of osteocytes, rather than from the osteocytes closest to the bone deposition front.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)418-427
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Osteoblast burial
  • Inclusions
  • Tissue growth
  • Matrix synthesis
  • Mathematical model

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