Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease (LCPD) is a childhood form of ischemic osteonecrosis of the femoral head which can produce a permanent femoral head deformity and early osteoarthritis. The femoral head deformity results from increased bone resorption and decreased bone formation during repair and remodeling of the necrotic femoral head. A recent study showed that a pro-inflammatory cytokine, interleukin-6 (IL-6), is significantly elevated in the synovial fluid of patients with LCPD. We hypothesized that IL-6 elevation decreases bone formation during the repair process following ischemic osteonecrosis and that IL-6 depletion will increase new bone formation. To test this hypothesis, we surgically induced ischemic osteonecrosis in the wild-type (n = 29) and IL-6 knockout (KO) mice (n = 25). The animals were assessed at 48 h, 2 weeks and 4 weeks following the induction of ischemic osteonecrosis using histologic, histomorphometric and micro-CT methods. IL-6 immunohistochemistry showed high expression of IL-6 in the osteonecrotic side of the wild-type mice at 48 h and 4 weeks following ischemic osteonecrosis, but not in the IL-6 KO mice. We also confirmed an undetectable level of IL-6 expression in the primary osteoblasts of the IL-6 KO mice compared to the readily detectable level in the wild-type mice. Furthermore, we confirmed that IL-6 deletion did not affect the extent of bone necrosis in the IL-6 KO mice compared to the wild-type mice by performing histologic and terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase mediated dUTP nick-end labeling (TUNEL) assessments at 2 weeks following the induction of ischemia. Both groups had the same extent of ischemic osteonecrosis and absence of repair at 2 weeks. At 4 weeks, the necrotic epiphyses showed a significant increase in the extent of revascularization in the IL-6 KO mice compared to the wild-type mice (p = 0.001). In addition, a significantly greater recovery of the hematopoietic bone marrow was observed in the osteonecrotic side of the IL-6 KO mice compared to the wild-type mice (p < 0.01). Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) immunohistochemistry showed regionally increased staining in the areas of repair in the osteonecrosis side of IL-6 KO mice compared to the wild-type mice at 4 weeks following ischemic osteonecrosis. Micro-CT assessment of the wild-type mice at 4 weeks showed a significant decrease in the percent bone volume (p < 0.01) in the osteonecrotic side compared to the control side. In contrast, IL-6 KO mice showed significantly increased bone volume in the osteonecrotic side compared to the osteonecrotic side of WT mice (p < 0.001). No significant difference in the bone volume percentage was found between the control side of the wild-type and the IL-6 KO mice. Histomorphometric analysis at 4 weeks revealed increased osteoblast number/bone surface (p < 0.001), bone formation rate (BFR) (p = 0.0001), and mineral apposition rate (MAR) (p < 0.0001) in the osteonecrotic side of the IL-6 KO mice compared to the wild-type mice. The number of osteoclast/bone surface was also increased in the IL-6 KO mice compared to the wild-type mice (p < 0.0001). No significant difference was observed between the control side of the wild-type and IL-6 KO mice with regards to the number of osteoblast or osteoclast/bone surface, BFR, and MAR. We next obtained primary osteoblasts from IL-6 KO mice and showed they expressed a significantly higher level of RANKL/OPG than wild-type mice (p = 0.001) in hypoxia culture condition. Taken together, the findings indicate that IL-6 deletion stimulates revascularization and new bone formation following ischemic osteonecrosis. This study provides new evidence that therapeutic strategies to block IL-6 may be beneficial for bone healing following ischemic osteonecrosis.
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