Background and aims: Erythropoietin (EPO) is a pleiotropic cytokine, which besides its classical role in driving erythropoiesis, displays tissue protective and immunomodulatory activities. EPO also induces bone loss. While hematopoiesis is mediated via the homodimeric EPO receptor (EPOR), tissue protection is conferred via a heteromer composed of EPOR and CD131. Cibinetide (CIB), a non-erythropoietic analogue of EPO, specifically binds to the heteromeric receptor and confers tissue protection. Our published findings that EPO stimulates osteoclast precursors and entrains a decrease in bone density, raise questions regarding the underlying molecular mechanisms. Here, we evaluated the role of the heteromeric complex in bone metabolism using CIB alone and in combination with EPO in vivo and in vitro.

Results: CIB injections to 12-week-old female mice (120 µg/kg thrice weekly for 4 weeks) resulted in a significant increase in tissue mineral density in cortical bone by 5.8% (1416.4±39.27 vs 1338.74±16.56 mgHA/cm 3) and in trabecular bone by 5.2% (1056.52±30.94 vs 1004.13±16.91 mg HA/cm 3) (n=10 in each group, p< 0.05 versus saline-injected controls), as measured by microCT (Figure 1A).

To evaluate the capacity of CIB to attenuate EPO mediated bone loss, we administered CIB (300 µg/kg) for 5 consecutive days, to 13-week-old female mice that also received 2 injections of 120U EPO on days 1 and 4. Flow cytometry analysis revealed a 1.8-fold reduction in the number of osteoclast progenitors, defined as Lin -CD11b CD115 +Ly6C hi, in the EPO + CIB injected mice, compared to the mice injected with EPO alone (n=7 in each group, p< 0.05). Hemoglobin levels and TER119 + bone marrow (BM) erythroid progenitors were similar in both groups.

In vitro, EPO administration to BM-derived macrophages (BMDM) enhanced osteoclastogenesis, whereas CIB had an opposite, dose-dependent effect. Combining CIB with EPO inhibited osteoclastogenesis in BMDM, suggesting that CIB overrides the pro-osteoclastogenic effect of EPO (Figure 1B).

Conclusions: Our findings highlight the increasing complexity of EPOR signaling in bone and pave the way for clinical translation through potential combination therapy of EPO and CIB in anemic and in cancer patients. Adjunctive administration of CIB may prevent or attenuate bone loss while preserving the erythropoietic actions of EPO.

This study was supported by a grant from the Dotan Hemato-oncology Fund, the Cancer Biology Research Center, Tel Aviv University to DN and YG.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

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