Osteoclast Differentiation

Osteoclast precursor culture and differentiation


  • Clean scissors
  • Clean forceps
  • 70% Ethanol
  • Dissecting board (cork, Styrofoam, etc.)
  • Push pins
  • Absorptive disposable cloth (like bench liner)
  • 10mL syringe (Fisher Scientific – 14-823-2A)
  • 25-guage needle (Fisher Scientific – 14-821-13D)


  • α-MEM
    • Stericup 0.22-micron PVDF filter with 1L bottle (Millipore – SCGVU11RE)
    • 1 jar Minimum Essential Medium powder (Sigma-Aldrich –  M0894-10X1L)
    • 880mL deionized water
    • 10mL 200mM L-glutamine (ThermoFisher – 25030081).
    • 10mL 10,000IU Penicillin/10,000μg Streptomycin (ThermoFisher – 15140122)
    • 1.98g Sodium Bicarbonate (Fisher Scientific – BP328-500)
    • Add 100mL heat inactivated fetal bovine serum
    • Mix and sterile filter into a new bottle
  • Freezing medium
    • 90% α-MEM
    • 10% Dimethyl sulfoxide (Fisher Scientific – BP231-100)
  • Phosphate Buffered Saline without Ca++ and Mg++ (ThermoFisher – 14190235)
  • 100mm tissue culture-treated dishes (Denville Scientific – T1110)
  • 60mm untreated suspension culture dishes (Fisher Scientific – 08-772-31)
  • 24-well tissue culture plates (Denville Scientific – T1024)
  • 50mL and 15mL tubes
  • 5mL and 10mL serological pipettes
  • 37oC water bath
  • ACK lysing buffer (ThermoFisher – A1049201)
  • Recombinant mouse Monocyte/Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor (MCSF) (Biolegend – 576406)
  • Recombinant mouse Receptor Activator of Nuclear Factor κB Ligand (RANKL) (Shenandoah Biotechnology – 200-04-100ug)
  • Accutase cell dissociation reagent (ThermoFisher – A1110501)

Day 1

  1. Sacrifice a mouse (C57Bl/6 work well) via CO2 inhalation followed by cervical dislocation
  2. Using clean technique, dissect out and separate the tibiae and femora.
  3. Cut the ends off femora and tibiae to facilitate flushing
  4. Working in the hood, fill a 10mL syringe with 10mL α-MEM.
  5. Pick up a bone with forceps and insert syringe needle into one end.
  6. Flush ~2.5mL α-MEM through the bone into a 15mL tube. Note: you’ll know you’ve flushed out the marrow if the bone changes from a reddish color to a more white color.
  7. Repeat the flushing procedure for remaining bones adding all marrow flushes from each mouse into a single tube.
  8. Using a 10mL serological pipette, transfer medium with marrow cells into a clean 15mL tube. Take care not to transfer any debris from the bone that may have settled to the bottom of the tube.
  9. Pellet cells at 300RCF for 5 minutes.
  10. Aspirate medium and resuspend pellet in 500μL ACK lysing buffer and incubate at 37oC for 2 minutes to lyse red blood cells.
  11. Add 10mL PBS to cells and pellet at 300RCF for 5 minutes.
  12. Resuspend pellet in 10mL α-MEM and transfer to a 100mm tissue culture-treated dish.
  13. Incubate plate in a 37oC humidified incubator at 5% CO2 This will allow osteoblasts, stroma, fibroblasts, and all other adherent cells that may be in the flush to attach to the plate.

Day 2

  1. Transfer non-adherent cells to a 50mL tube.
  2. Add α-MEM to a volume of 18mL.
  3. Add MCSF to a final concentration of 35ng/mL.
  4. Distribute cells to 6 60mm non-tissue culture-treated dishes (3mL/dish).
  5. Incubate dishes in a 37oC humidified incubator at 5% CO2 overnight.

Day 3

  1. Refresh medium on cells.

Day 5

  1. When plates are 75% confluent, wash with PBS, and add 1mL Accutase to each dish. It usually takes ~5min at room temperature for Accutase to weaken the attachment enough to lift the cells.
  2. Add 4mL α-MEM w/ 35ng/mL M-CSF to cells in plate and use gentle pipette motion to lift. Combine cells from each dish into a single 50mL tube.
  3. Count cells using a hemocytometer. If there are a lot of cells, you may have to dilute your counting sample – start with a 4-fold dilution, if necessary.
  4. To make osteoclasts in the following plates use these numbers of macrophages (~26000 cells per cm2 of culture area):
    • 96-well culture treated plate – 8 x 103 (seed in 200μL)
    • 24-well culture treated plate – 5 x 104 (seed in 1mL)
    • 35mm culture treated dish – 2.5 x 105 (seed in 2mL)
    • 60mm culture treated dish – 7.4 x 105 (seed in 3mL)
    • 100mm culture treated dish – 2 x 106 (seed in 10mL)
  5. Alternatively, cells can be seeded on bone or dentine slices. Use the same cell density of the culture vessel the slice is kept in (usually a 24-well plate)
  6. Prepare the necessary number and volume of cells for your desired culture vessel in α-MEM w/ 35ng/mL M-CSF and 100ng/mL RANKL.
  7. Incubate dishes in a 37oC humidified incubator at 5% CO2 for 2 days.

Day 6

  1. Refresh the medium on the cells – α-MEM w/ 35ng/mL M-CSF + 100ng/mL RANKL
  2. Late in the afternoon, you may see some multinuclear cells.

Day 7

  1. Osteoclastogenesis should be complete in the AM
  2. Osteoclasts don’t live long in culture, so watch your cells closely.
  3. Osteoclasts on bone slices usually take 1 more day to mature than those on culture plastic.
  4. Osteoclasts can be stained using a TRAP staining kit (Sigma-Aldrich – 387A)

Bl6 - 100

Mature osteoclasts stained for Tartrate-Resistant Acid Phosphatase (TRAP) activity.