Osteoblasts are bone-forming cells that differentiate from mesenchymal stem cells. Differentiation processes are coordinately and dynamically controlled in the mesenchymal cells by specific signal transduction pathways. Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs), members of the TGF-β superfamily, induce not only bone formation in vivo, but also osteoblast differentiation of mesenchymal cells in vitro. BMP signals are transduced from plasma membrane receptors to the nucleus through both Smad-dependent and -independent pathways, and are regulated by many extracellular and intercellular proteins that interact with BMPs or components of BMP signaling pathways. To understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the role of BMPs in osteoblast differentiation, it is important to elucidate the BMP signaling transduction pathways that are active during osteoblast differentiation. In this review, we summarize the BMP signaling pathways that are known to function in osteoblast development. We also describe our recent findings regarding the molecular mechanisms underlying the cross-talk between BMP/Smad and NF-κB pathways in osteoblast differentiation.
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