Cell shape is the most critical determinant of cell function and is potentially influenced by the organization of a cell's cytoskeletal components. It has been reported that three-dimensionally cultured osteoblasts have a morphology that closely resembles that of osteocytes, most notably including formation of processes. We have previously shown the critical differences between cytoskeletal components in osteoblasts and osteocytes in two-dimensional culture. We have now extended that investigation to the cytoskeletal components of 3D-cultured osteoblasts and osteocytes using 3D cultures of the osteoblast cell line, MC3T3-E1, and primary osteocytes grown in collagen gel. Three-dimensional fluorescent image reconstructions for actin, fimbrin, alpha-actinin, myosin, tropomyosin, and microtubules were made using IMARIS software. Actin, fimbrin, alpha-actinin, myosin, and tropomyosin all appeared in the processes of both cell types, but fimbrin and myosin showed differences in their distribution patterns between cell types. Microtubules were limited in distribution to the proximal region of osteocyte processes but extended the entire length of MC3T3-E1 cell processes. Microtubules were essential for the integrity and formation of MC3T3-E1 cell processes, but osteocyte processes were dependent on actin. These results showed that there are significant differences between the actin and microtubule cytoskeletons in the processes of 3D-cultured MC3T3-E1 cells and in the processes of 3D-cultured primary osteocytes. These differences in the cytoskeleton of the processes of 3D-cultured osteoblasts and of osteocyte dendrites suggest that osteoblast processes may have a different functional role than the osteocyte dendritic network.
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