γ-Glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) is a widely distributed ectopeptidase responsible for the degradation of glutathione in the γ-glutamyl cycle. This cycle is implicated in the metabolism of cysteine, and absence of GGT causes a severe intracellular decrease in this amino acid. GGT-deficient (GGT-/-) mice have multiple metabolic abnormalities and are dwarf. We show here that this latter phenotype is due to a decreased of the growth plate cartilage total height resulting from a proliferative defect of chondrocytes. In addition, analysis of vertebrae and tibiae of GGT-/- mice revealed a severe osteopenia. Histomorphometric studies showed that this low bone mass phenotype results from an increased osteoclast number and activity as well as from a marked decrease in osteoblast activity. Interestingly, neither osteoblasts, osteoclasts, nor chondrocytes express GGT, suggesting that the observed defects are secondary to other abnormalities. N-acetylcysteine supplementation has been shown to reverse the metabolic abnormalities of the GGT-/- mice and in particular to restore the level of IGF-1 and sex steroids in these mice. Consistent with these previous observations, N-acetylcysteine treatment of GGT-/- mice ameliorates their skeletal abnormalities by normalizing chondrocytes proliferation and osteoblastic function. In contrast, resorbtion parameters are only partially normalized in GGT-/- N-acetylcysteine-treated mice, suggesting that GGT regulates osteoclast biology at least partly independently of these hormones. These results establish the importance of cysteine metabolism for the regulation of bone remodeling and longitudinal growth.
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