c-Fos is a key regulator of bone development, since transgenic mice expressing exogenous Fos develop bone tumors, whereas mice lacking c-Fos are osteopetrotic due to a differentiation block in bone resorbing osteoclasts. We are interested to study how c-Fos and its related protein Fra-1, which is c-Fos inducible, control osteoblast proliferation and osteoclast differentiation (1). We recently found that Fra-1 is an essential gene for mouse development (2) and transgenic mice overexpressing Fra-1 develop the bone disease osteosclerosis, which is due to increased bone formation (3). To test whether Fra-1 can substitute for c-Fos, we generated knock-in mice that express Fra in place of c-Fos. Fra-1 rescues c-Fos dependent functions in bone development which appeared to be gene dosage dependent (4). However, Fra-1 failed to substitute for c-Fos in inducing expression of target genes in vitro. We are using these systems to identify novel Fos target genes by microarrays and with the help of bone-specific conditional alleles of c-Fos and Fra-1, we are studying the molecular mechanisms how Fos proteins govern bone cell development and differentiation.
Since Fos proteins need Jun proteins to activate transcription, we investigated the function of c-Jun in bone cells using the cre/loxP system. Chondrocyte-specific inactivation using col2A1-cre transgenic mice results in severe scoliosis caused by failure of intevertebral disk formation and abnormal vertebral arch development, suggesting that c-jun is a novel regulator of sklerotomal differentiation.